Author: J.H.Hovagimyan --- Date: 03/12/96 --- Copyright: ThingReviews NYC

Cultural Economies: Histories from the Alternative Arts Movement
The Drawing Center

Counter Culture: Alternative Information From the Underground Press to the Internet
Exit Art

These two shows have an unintended end-of-an-era feeling. Both shows are well done and well intentioned but flawed in their curatorial outlook. This could be the Swan Song for alternative spaces and alternative artists groups. What the curators have done in both cases is festishize objects by taking them out of context and displaying them as hermetic icons.

This occurs to a lesser extent at the Drawing Center where much of the art works displayed were originally shown together in anti-gallery artist-run alternatives such as Fashion Moda, ABC No Rio and Collaborative Projects. The main creative energies in these artist "groups" often occurred in the meetings and organizing that led up to a show or "action." One reviewer of works during the Times Square show put on by Collaborative Projects mirrored the feelings of the art public in general to wit; the objects seemed to be more cultural detritus than bone fide "fine art objects." Well, that was the point. Understand. These forays into expanding the art context beyond a commodity/ gallery system were passionately deliberate. Their very vitality depended on the "otherness" of both the location and the haphazardness of the art itself. However most of the artists have since acquired gallery status and "cleaned up their act." There is an inevitability in trying to expand an art system in which you want to be incorporated. You may bend it to some extent but eventually you come around to their way of doing things. This may be why one feels a particular "malaise en fin d'epoque" upon viewing these exhibitions. The original spirit and promise has somehow not traveled well. This perhaps is due to the gallery context in which the works now sit.

As for the Counterculture show at Exit Art, it promises much but delivers curiously little. The display of fanzines, low circulation newprint and alternative publications under glassine immediately denies the original character and use of these artifacts. Indeed the whole exhibition is excruciatingly empty of passion and creative energy. The intention of this exhibition seems to be more in line with the latest Gucci fashions which plunder some of the surface look of the "Psychedelic Sixties" without comprehending the broader societal implications of the era. The "internet" part of the Exit Art exhibition is this publicly funded institutions attempt to stay current. It consists of a rather boringly designed web page and two computer terminals in the gallery. The paucity of internet material and the anemic presentation is not apparent to most gallery goers who are for the most part not wired. But anyone who is web-savvy will be appalled at the audacity of license taken in even including the word "internet" in the title of the Counterculture show. There is a bright side to all of this. One feels that the spirit of community building proposed in an earlier form as shown by these two exhibits has migrated to the internet, even as the object obsessed art world spins on its own self-referential axis. Welcome to the brave new world, leave your physical obsessions at the door.

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