December 10th: New York’s Avant-Garde

The upcoming meeting of the Junta looks like it will be one of our best yet. The date is set for December 10, although the venue is not yet confirmed. Our featured presenter is Joshua Cohen, who has kindly penned the following introduction and included a list of references:

I’m currently writing a compressed history of New York City’s late-20th century avant-garde movements, in music, in the visual arts, theater, dance, and in their nexus in “performance art,” but approached through an idiosyncratic admixture of geography, or urban planning, and money, or economics. Altogether, I’m writing about what’s become called “Downtown,” that stretch of artistic-minded Lower Manhattan located between Union Square, or, alternatively, Washington Square Park, and Wall Street. I’m trying to trace a particular type of cultural displacement — a displacement of the residences of cultural figures, and also of cultural venues, including music clubs, and galleries, etc. — in the interests of defining Downtown, or “a downtown.”

Briefly, I begin after the Second World War. Subjects, dates, landmarks covered include, in rough chronological order: Greenwich Village in the 1940s and 50s; Marcel Duchamp; “Abstract Expressionism”; the creation of the suburbs, the concomitant exurbanation of white ethnic populations (Irish, Italian, Jewish); the declines of two generations of American Youth: the “Beat Generation,” and the counterculture of the 1960s, and early 70s; more particularly: the Fluxus happenings centered around Yoko Ono’s Soho loft in the early 1960s; Andy Warhol; the “loft-jazz scene”; the rise of “Minimalism”; the origins of “punk rock”; the history of Downtown venues from The Kitchen through, more popularly, CBGB’s; the passing of the 1974 “Loft Law,” which provided a legal framework for so-called “warehouse-to-loft-conversions”; the cleaning up of the East Village drug scene, begun in earnest in 1984, with Operation Pressure Point, led by ambitious federal attorney Rudolph Giuliani; the growth of New York University throughout the late 1980s; the 1990s’ real-estate-boom; the rise of the Chelsea art district, and its supremacy over Soho; the shuttering of musical venue Tonic; the demise of another venue, The Knitting Factory; the closing of CBGB’s, followed by its conversion into an upscale men’s fashion store, in 2006; this brief history, before it goes on toward prognostication, culminates with two Downtown events of just last month (11/08): Christie’s first auction of “punk rock” memorabilia; and the enshrining of a CBGB’s urinal in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC, newly opened in Tribeca.

Suggested reading (Internet-only):

Peter Cherches’ overview of Downtown Music, compiled for NYU

Kyle Gann, on Downtown Music

Marc Ribot, “The Care and Feeding of a Musical Margin,” from All About Jazz, 6/5/2007

Doree Ashton’s “Implications of Nationalism for Abstract Expressionism,” from Abstract Expressionism, ed. Marter

Fluxus resources

“Art and Commodity,” from Andy Warhol, Priest, by Peter Kattenberg

“Going Cold Turkey in Alphabetville,” an article from The New York Times, 2/19/1984

John Jay College of Criminal Justice Report, “We Deliver: The Gentrification of Drug Markets on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Final Report”

“Law on Tenancies in Lofts Unsettled,” an article from The New York Law Journal

Also, (nonmusical) listening:

Kathy Acker

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