when i remember what to say
you forget to answer

Alan Moore interviewed by Lori Waxman
[bowdlerized to some extent for cranky comments for this release… 4/08]
Transcribed by Jim Graham, March 2005

date of recording: December 2, 2004

Lori Waxman: Hi.
Alan W. Moore: So, tell me what you’re doing?
LW: I wasn’t expecting to be interviewed but why not?
I’m taking a class with Rob Storr at the Institute of Fine Arts. He’s giving a class called Alternatives which is looking at artist’s groups, and organizations from about the Abstract Expressionists onward, specifically in New York. Partly because there isn’t a huge amount of information available on them, and the class has been more of a research project than anything else and it’s only after we get all the research done do we sit down and ask any bigger questions. It’s been more about who what where when and why.
AM: Fantastic. Sounds great. Who are some of the other people you’re working on?
LW: Let’s see. We started with the Ab Ex. We’ve gone to, let’s see, Food, Art Worker’s Coalition, 112 Greene St., Franklin Furnace, PADD, Group Material…
AM: You’re doing interviews in all these areas?
LW: Not just me. Everyone. I previously worked on Food. [This is a dynamite essay, one of the best I've read on the project: It's at http://as-ap.org/waxman/resources.cfm, the Artists Spaces Archive Project. -- AM] We’re supposed to do whatever we can dig up, who wants to talk, who’s willing to talk, who’s interesting to talk to, we talk to. Within the means of one semester. With Colab, more than with a lot of the other groups, there are so many people around. And so little is on record. The two people I’ve talked to anyway remember it very fondly and are very happy to talk about it. Mike Glier and John gave me a list of phone numbers of other people to follow up with.
AM: What’s happening with the material? Is it going any particular place?
LW: Well, Rob suggested if it all works out well, he would try and put a book together. But that remains to be seen. As for the material that we’ve collected, we’ve all made massive photo copy packets and passed them out every time we do the presentation so that everyone has ended up with a bit of an archive but there isn’t an official repository for it.
AM: Bard Curatorial Studies is doing an archive of exhibitions, important exhibitions, and they’re doing the Times Square Show. I don’t know what happened – the person who was supposed to talk to me never contacted me then I talked to somebody else, who did a great Master’s Thesis on downtown nightclubs in the 80s. Jasmine Van Pee. Other stuff is happening, but not too much.
LW: There’s the downtown show at the New Museum, which should include Colab, I imagine.
AM: Maybe. They’re not talking. (laughs)
LW: I haven’t approached them. Maybe not. Colab pulled out of a show there once upon a time.
AM: Not there. At the New Museum.
LW: There’s an eighties show happening at the New Museum. And the Downtown Show is at the Grey Art gallery.
AM: The one that opens at the New Museum this weekend is basically the East Village gallery movement at its peak.
LW: It’s pretty tight.
AM: So that’s beyond the period of Colab. Not exactly but more or less. What people call the Classic Colab, the old Colab.
LW: First Wave. First Wave or Second Wave?
AM: Second Wave is Classic …shaw [unclear]
LW: The first Wave is the one I haven’t been able to find out all that much about.
AM: Have you seen David Little’s dissertation?
LW: What’s the topic of the dissertation?
AM: Collaborative Projects.
AM: 1977-1983.
AM: I’m trying to do an exhibition next year. Next year is the 25th anniversary of the Times Square Show and also of the founding of ABC No Rio. We’re doing a large benefit exhibition for the ABC building. I ‘m trying to organize at the same time an exhibition for ABC No RIO and [the] Times Square [show]. That’s cooking. Let’s see how far it gets.
LW: By focusing on the Times Square Show, is that it for you with Colab projects?
AM: It’s the most famous, and the most important in art world [inaud]. Yeah, objectively, yeah. Colab did a lot of other things and I was involved in them. The residue of those projects today is the MWF Video distribution, MWF Club, which is online.
LW: Which is how I found you.
AM: Colab continues to exist as a legal entity, to receive funding, because of that project, which is the last project. It is also an archive of materials. Flat art materials. It’s actually in process. it’s being moved around right now.
LW: Cos you’re moving?
AM: Yeah.
LW: Who do you still get funds from?
AM: We got some money from NYSCA, to work with the video collection. So I did an inventory. Need to enrich the database with descriptions, with more information. But basically it’s a business that sells video tape. So it accumulates money. It’s an anemic business.
LW: I sniffed around a little bit for the video artist list on it. It’s not curated, is it? It’s by submission?
AM: Yeah, pretty much. If somebody said, “I want you to distribute my tape. Will you take it?” [we will.] But the period when we were really active is about 86 to 90, and after that, I went back to school, and the whole thing went to sleep so it’s been slumbering along. It’s not dead but it’s not really much alive.
LW: (inaudible) Great choice.
AM: I made an effort to bring it back a few years ago but it was unsuccessful because it kind of coincided with the digital turn and now people want the DVD. VHS just doesn’t cut it. The orders fell off. The material is little known at this point. It’s a specialty audience.
LW: So you still get new material or not really?
AM: No, not really into new material because we’re not functioning.
Trying to get it pushed off to the Filmmakers Coop, but …
LW: You can tell me about the First Wave?
AM: Well, there are numerous origin stories. Have you been collecting them?
LW: I have found very, very few. John gave me his version last night. It was pretty minimal: “Some friends got together, and then it got bigger.”
AM: I think Gerry Hovagimyan has a version on the web. He was working at 112 Greene Street as an assistant, and he’s one of Matta Clark’s principal cutters.
LW: Did he just write an article recently that was run in the [inaud]
about Gordon Matta Clark?
AM: He has a piece in the Phaidon catalog, in the Phaidon book about Matta Clark. But he also discusses stuff on line in which he discusses Colab, so there are a number of conversations. Willoughby Sharp was also involved, about getting together and doing something. The kingpin in this was Liz Bear.
LW: They did Avalanche together.
AM: Yes. And they also purchased a building together (?) on Grand St., 93 Grand, called the Center for New Art Activities. It was there that they had meetings and exhibitions. Liza (kind of ) spun off and started doing her own projects around the media. This work of hers is described on the Video Data Bank website, the work that she was doing in 77-78. A number of people who became active in Colab, Coleen Fitzgibbon, Diego Cortez, particularly Robin Winters, who were all profiled by Avalanche in the last issues. Some of these guys were also in the Whitney Independent Study Program, when it was first getting started.
LW: Which? Jenny [Holzer] and Mike [Glier]?
AM: [There are lists of the alumni of the WISP in the Whitney Museum administrative archives.] Probably some more people were in there who have not become famous. So these guys were talking about doing work together, they were working together, and they became aware that Brian O’Doherty at the National Endowment had this workshop grant category that was set up in emulation of 112 Greene Street. “Mike” Walter Robinson and Edit DeAk were students of Brian O’Doherty from Columbia. They had been in the Whitney program, in the curatorial section and they started Art-Rite magazine. There’s actually a good article by David Frankel that appeared in the recent issue of Artforum about Art-Rite. It was kind of a smaller world than Soho, than it is now. [inaud]. It kind of gelled and I got involved I guess in ‘77. Cos I moved into 73 East Houston Street, which was Robin Winter’s house. A duplex, he rented out one side of it. Dick Miller was there. Dick moved into a bigger place and gave me his room. I was there for eighteen years. But for the first two years when I was there that’s when they had a lot of meetings, generated a lot of shows. Coleen who was hanging out with Robin at that time, had a place on Bleecker Street, so that was where a lot of --.
LW: … 591 Broadway.
AM: Robin had his studio at 591 on Broadway near Houston St.. [I think he got the space with Jackie Ochs, the filmmaker.]
LW 591…OK.
AM: So that was it. That was kind of the little circuit. CBGB’s was across the street and people starting falling in there. Anya Phillips was the door person there and Diego Cortez got involved with her. Diego [traveled a lot, and stayed around, including] with Mitch Corber who lived around the corner on Stanton Street, in a building that the city was clearing. At one point Mitch had three apartments on different floors because you know people were moving away. It was pretty wild, interesting.
LW: And then it kind of became organically bigger than that?
AM: Well, there were meetings and people had discussions in the meetings. Some people have minutes and agendas for those meetings [Andrea Callard’s, which are now at Fales Library], and there’s probably some tapes and certainly photographs. They decided to apply for NEA funding as a workshop, and got it, a good chunk of bucks and then the fun began.
LW: Do you remember what year the funding kicked in?
AM: I believe ‘78.
LW I read somewhere….I know where…this….(Holds something up. AM: Oh yeah.) So there’s...actually it’s in there...and it mentioned $150,000 for a year’s budget in 83 or 84, which blew me away, which I thought couldn’t possibly be right.
AM: That’s a fantasy. No, I don’t know where that comes from... [This must be in-kind contributions, i.e., labor accounted for as cash, which were rendered differently on these early budgets than they are today.]
LW: 1982 budget of 150,000, half of it from public sources.
AM: Oh, well, that’s, well, not impossible. There was Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style and Scott and Beth B were producing feature films, so there were these feature films that were coming through the budget. But Colab as an organization wouldn’t see the money, they just passed it. It’s possible. The money that was available to us was between $10 and $20,000 a year. That’s my recollection. I never did the financials which was probably a good thing.
LW: Mike told me that he remembers being the treasurer one year.
Do you remember who else…?
AM: Ulli Rimkus [companion of Christof Kohlhöfer] was the treasurer one year. Coleen I know she was involved. I think Rebecca Howland was treasurer one year. Andrea Callard who has just given papers to the Fales regarding Colab, which includes photographs of the Times Square Show and meeting minutes, her minutes from the period when she was secretary.
LW: So the meetings did have that kind of, not official, but there were people who doing official roles, treasurer, secretary….but no specific leader. I mean, the discussion itself would go –
AM: A president.
LW There was a president -
AM: All of these are required by New York State law for non-profits. We had no real procedure to set against that. Today groups have facilitators and whole complex structures and different means of ordering. But we didn’t have that. We just kind of blundered along. There wasn’t a lot of Robert’s Rules of order, thank goodness. I mean people were pretty much in agreement and interested in each other’s work, had actually been doing work so the meetings galumpfed along. There were big conflicts and big disputes, raging arguments, grandstanding. But the biggest grandstanding was in 79 once Diego Cortez split from the group. He went on to organize New York New Wave at PS1. Once he left and then Robin and Coleen left, Liza left, Michael McClard left, bunch of people left, then people kind of settled down to business.
LW: What was the split?
AM: What was the split?
LW: What was the problem?
AM: (exhales through lips) I don’t know. I don’t remember, I really don’t. [Sharing information about exhibitions and other possible opportunities.] Cos these guys were performance artists. “I‘m a Communist!” This kind of thing. Every time you’d go to a meeting you’d have some business, you do some business and then you’d sit and watch these guys battle with one another –
LW: So it was like, personality –-
AM: Robin and Coleen versus Liza and Diego and Michael. There were factions. At one point Diego quit and they all left. I think they had envisioned it as something else, something tighter, and it got bigger than they wanted it to be, than they were comfortable with. They were really interested in media work. The other people were more interested in more conventional means of production….So -
LW: Object –
AM: Exhibition, etc. A lot of situations. But basically I always [?] called it or Walter Robinson called it, I had helped write that article [in the Moore College of Art catalogue], called it the “glamour faction” because they were making movies, and they were hanging out with Brian Eno. They knew when the Clash were in town. That’s actually later…They knew when Elvis Costello was in town. They were going to that party. They weren’t going to tell you about it. So, you know, not that that was my heart’s desire, to go to a party with Elvis Costello but there were levels of information to which people were not privy…
LW: Were not privy. A part of the open organization that was –
AM: The thing was, there was a network of people [working] on
projects, it wasn’t like there was one big project that everybody worked on. Occasionally there would be one big project that everybody worked on –
LW: Like the Times Square Show.
AM: Right. But usually it would be people were doing projects for which they would come to the group and say, “We are doing this project. Give us this money. Here’s what’s happening.”
LW: The mission that anyone could participate in a Colab project was more about large exhibitions, like when it was a huge project that everyone was involved in?
AM: Yeah., You could come to the meetings. That was the hazing process. If you could get through it, if you wanted to get through it, you would be in. A lot of people just said, “Fuck this! These guys are full of attitude.” I brought my girlfriend one month from Boston, she was a weaver, and she came there, and she said, “My god, these people are crazy!” [inaud.]
LW: She went right back to Boston.
AM: Sorry about that. [?] “No, man it’s art, it’s New York, ya know? We’re not fucking around here.”
LW: She’s going back to Boston.
AM A wise decision. (laughs)
LW: I don’t know if you’ve read it in a while, but Walter Robinson’s article is pretty strange, has a strange tone. I’ve read enough to know that he has a strange tone that I don’t get generally –
AM: Sarcastic realism.
LW: Yeah. You really don’t know if he’s taking an ironic position and if he’s aware of what’s sincere and what’s not, what he –
AM: As time goes by, I think of it more as kind of a redneck attitude –
LW: A consciously redneck attitude?
AM: Sort of. I mean, intellectual aesthetic redneck. “Up against the wall, mother truckers.” You know, in the Drive By Truckers. He really is. “We are a bunch of redneck loser boozers,” and right, in a sense, I think that’s the attitude.
LW: How long did he stick around?
AM: He was the President, so he took it very seriously for awhile, after the Times Square Show. But after that people started getting gallery deals and selling out. Or cashing in, as they say. This was a process that the group really couldn’t sustain. And the dealers were utterly uninterested in the group. They basically felt –
LW: Was that a surprise?
AM: Yeah, it actually was – to me. I don’t think that’s true now, but probably it is, I’m not sure. I’ve been studying the groups that have been coming up the last several years but I don’t know anything about their actual dealings with the art world. I know Royal Art Lodge disintegrated upon impact [with New York].
LW: They’re not together anymore?
AM: No, no, not after the opening. (laughs) When Marcel Tzamas [?] got sucked up, and the other guys are going “Formerly of Royal Art Lodge.” Too bad. And they were all really young, too.
LW: I think the youngest was his little sister. Maybe 12 -
AM: Literally. (both laugh)
LW: So this is 1983. Was Walter president then?
AM: I don’t know. He may have been, or he just left being president.
LW: It’s good for me to know that, [in order] to understand where that piece is coming from.
AM: So this is why David Little’s dissertation is needed because I’m sure he’s got this all laid out.
LW: John was telling me he couldn’t remember when it was, maybe eight years ago, he remembered you sending out an email to the group to say, “Let’s get together, maybe we should be doing something, maybe we shouldn’t –“
AM: Yes, Tom and Kiki made an effort to reconvene Colab in the late ‘90s. Because they had such a strong position people showed up and wanted to hear what they would say. It was an interesting series of two or three meetings. Wolfgang Staehle said, “How many people here have email?” And maybe two hands go up. “How many of you ever go on the internet?” One hand goes up. He says “Paw, paw, paw!” (laughs). [Wolfgang was typically dismissive of the unwired; he was starting The Thing network at the time.]
LW: Goes back to the thing that …..(she is referring to the redneck thing?)
AM: Exactly. Exactly. When was it?
LW: When was it?
AM: Sounds like ‘97 or ‘98. Something like that.
LW That late. Cool. Do you know what the impetus was?
AM For that? It was Kiki and John, and (?) Tom.
LW: But why then?
AM: I don’t know. I really don’t know. [And neither does the transcriber, for crying out loud.]
LW: Let me show you. I made up, I’m trying to make up some lists
for the fun, trying to put something in order that wasn’t about order, of anyone that I could find that was mentioned as a member. But then there’s of course in all the exhibition reviews, there are plenty of people who exhibit who aren’t members. A nice splashing of names all over the place. Basquiat was one, who was apparently in the Times Square Show.
AM: Yes.
LW: Also a list, I’m trying to make a dated list of projects although there are plenty I’ve come up with that I don’t have dates for. I’m sure that there are plenty more that I haven’t seen mentioned in print or no one’s mentioned to me [word inaud].
LW: It’s unnecessary although it’s been fun. Everything that I had to read to put this together I would have read anyway. I just would have made half the notes.
AM: You also don’t have the ‘78 to ‘80 book which lists all of this.
LW: Where’s that?
AM: I have it. I just made a number of copies and sent one to Berlin for an exhibition there, so I can loan you a copy.
LW: That’s great. So that lists everything that happened --
AM: ‘78-‘80. It’s a press book. It’s kind of a history.
LW: Is that a black book?
AM: It’s the black book. There are a few of these. I have two. This is the big one, ‘78-‘80. I think I have ‘83. And then there are two others.
LW: Who put those together?
AM: The people who were like the secretaries. I mean, a lot of us were working in the graphic trades. Typesetters. I was a typesetter and had access to a pPhotostat machine, so we could produce X magazine, and prepare a lot of printed materials cheaply.
LW: I’m going to take a look at X magazine tomorrow. It’s at MOMA. And also the PADD file on Colab. I have no idea what’s in it.
AM: Probably not too much. No, you want this black book.
LW: How can I borrow a copy of this from you?
AM: I don’t know if you want to haul out to Staten Island but I’m in the process of moving…That would the easiest way to get it. I’ll be there all day tomorrow.
LW: I’ll gonna be at MOMA in Queens. Unfortunately, very far from Staten Island.
AM: I have to be out of there by Sunday the fifth.
LW: Are you back in the city this weekend?
AM: Yeah. This week. Yes.
LW: Could I meet you in one of those times and we do a hand-off.
AM: That sounds good. I’ll be there all day tomorrow. Shifting and fiddling with all this stuff. I’ll be in and out.
LW: You’re the repository for most materials?
AM: Well, yes and no, I have a lot of stuff. I have the remains of ABC RIO petty storage space in the Charas el Bohio building until it went down, or changed hands. I had that storage space built and I put the Colab stuff in there that was left over there from the stores and different exhibitions. So I have a lot of that stuff. A lot of it is just garbage, honestly. But a lot of it’s good stuff.
LW: Why were you involved in Colab? As one of the non-makers?
AM: No, I was a maker. I was a film and video artist. There was access to tools and materials, and people were exciting, and there was access to exhibition opportunities. You know, we did a television series called Potato Wolf for several years and I was very active in that –
LW: Do you know how the name was --?
AM: Cara Perlman came up with it.
LW: It’s a fantastic name. Very, very evocative of many, many wild things.
AM: Becky Howland did a logo for it, which is a wolf with a potato in its mouth, drooling.
LW: It’s funny cos I was saying to John last night who very, very vaguely remembered it, that immediately I was starting to think of the logo as soon as I’d heard the name, Potato Wolf, and I was imagining it in the corner of the screen, you know where you have the NBC logo or whatever –
AM: We’ll get there. We’re just starting to make DVDs….
LW: Do you still show your work?
AM: I don’t make much work at all. I went back to school in ’91 and I made like three or four pieces. Every time I have impulse to make work I squelch it. (Laughs) That’s not true but it takes too much time, takes me too much time, and it takes me down strange passages which are not productive of scholarship, generally. If I was clever enough I could probably integrate them well. A lot of people do that now but I kind of don’t believe in that on a certain level. But the people who are doing the history of artists movements and artists which I’m sure you’re aware of – Art Club 2000, Bernadette[?] and a lot of these people, so….Art historians have simply not been doing it. Rob Storr is really unusual. He was here for awhile and then he was gone. People here are just not into it.
LW: He was an artist, he is an artist. Maybe he fits your rule and he’s the only exception.
AM: If it lives and breathes, we’re not studying it. When it dies, give us a call. (laughs)
LW: Dieter Rot is a perfect example. There wasn’t a show in this country until he died. Not a big show.
AM: Diderot? He’s a writer. [Dead Frenchman. Hunk of cheese.]
LW: No, not – Dieter Rot.
AM: Ah, Dieter Rot. Yeah.
LW: But that’s great, he would have liked that that we just had that confusion.
AM: ….He [inaud]…flashing through my graduate school experience.
LW: What was your thesis on?
AM: Artists’ organizations. Exactly what your seminar is on. I talked to Rob Storr and I waited too long to publish. I’ve been cranking other stuff out. I wrote on…And you can order my thesis from UMI. From Art Workers Coalition to Group Material. That teleology that basically Lucy Lippard marked out. She’s the real thread girl on this.
LW: She wrote a very strange review of Times Square Review.
AM: I did Colab and ABC No Rio, and Colab was a big detour because these were artists who are socially conscious, they were not political artists. And when push came to shove, they stepped back into the game without a second’s thought.
LW: So you found them much less of an exception to the art world.
AM: At the time they were a big noise. But they had I mean in retrospect looking at it - I just wrote a chapter for Greg Sholette and Blake Stimson’s book Collectivism After Modernism that’s coming out, and I did “Anglophone Collectivity After ’68” – it’s like, stand back! and get a big view, stand back and get a really big view - it’s like when Colab came along it’s like this group, this flat out, straight up group. Gordon Matta-Clark put Anarchitecture together, but it was really him, him and his buddies. They had one show, one double spread in a magazine. It was like a fake group.
LW: Yes.
AM: And those guys had kind of distanced themselves from the Art Workers Coalition, which was a very serious collection of people who were very seriously into groups, like GAAG, the proto-El Museo crowd, Ad Hoc Women Artists, and Anonima, which is a really interesting group, which is completely forgotten, it’s like off your chart although it’s not off your chart for Ab Ex cos it’s like Abstract American Artists. They were all abstractionists, they were kind of tight people. A guy named Michel Oren – did a paper on them at CAA, discussing Green Gallery, Anonima. He’s done a lot of other papers on artists groups, which he’s published in extraordinary journals. I have them, somewhere, piles and piles of stuff and somewhere in there are Michel’s papers.
Basically I think Colab inherited a whole lot of, I don’t know if cathexis is the right word but, you know, Artists Meeting for Cultural Change. I don’t know if you’re doing that but – it was meeting …Tim Rollins went to those meetings, Greg Sholette went to those meetings. I did not go to those meetings because I was hanging out with Edit and Walter, and Mike, as he was known then, used to say, “They’re all Stalinists! Fuck them! We’re not going to their meetings!”
LW: Where did you go instead?
AM: “Carl Andre stands up and read Marx for hours on end!” I had worked at Artforum and I bought all that shit. So there was like, these guys were not political artists but they were forming a group, and they were engaging social issues directly.
LW: But not specifically political.
AM: Right. They had no ideology. Robin Winters used to say, “I’m a Communist,” but it was play acting. He was performative Communist.
LW: So that did put them somewhere in between what was going on in the galleries, the Minimalism or Conceptualism, and something at this other end, which was very consciously political?
AM: Yeah. Basically Group Material kind of, they were the Second Wave. This is the way I see it, this is what my thesis is about. It’s as clear as crystal. Group Material got the goods, Colab just kind of crusted up the situation, they punked up, punked out. At one point their shows were called Punk Art and they were. There’s was a lot of Punkism in the group. The whole new Museum thing. I was not on the negotiating committee but the negotiating committee would come back to the membership, and they say, “Well, they say this and they say that,” and we’d all go, “Fuck them! Fuck them! They’re bad! They’re museums!” ….It’s embarrassing to recollect.
LW: Is it less immature than it sounds, than you’re making it sound?
AM: What we wanted to do, was to remove the window on Fifth Avenue. This was at Fourteenth Street and University Place. [Believe that NM was first located at Fifth and 14th – JG. It’s the New School building.] They had the window but they had bricked it up, or put walls in front of it. We wanted to remove the walls along a certain section and remove the window and put in a soup kitchen that would be open certain hours of the day.
LW: Fantastic idea.
AM: They rejected this idea categorically. So the decision was made not to do the show. So, in the New Museum catalog, of which they printed like 10,000, it’s says, “Colab withdrew from the show without any notice, leaving us with two weeks to fill [?] the gallery.”
Of course, because we wanted to open the gallery. The guy who was the point person on the negotiation who I remember was Gregory Lehman. Marcia Tucker’s papers have just gone to the Archives of American Art, they’re sitting up there, or they were as of two three months ago.
LW: One of my colleagues read through them, in the museum last week.
AM: Then they would know the story if she took notes of the meetings with the Colab committee.
LW: I mean, in the New York Times articles they make it sound like Colab pulled out, what did Grace Glueck write, “Colab pulled out because it was too,” she didn’t use the word punk, because they decided that they didn’t want to be involved with an institution.
[AM under her during this, inaud.]
AM: No, that’s not the case. The institution wouldn’t do what we wanted, so we decided not to do the show. That’s what happened.
I’m not surprised.
LW: I mean it seems like, if you have a smaller group or a more focused group. When something is decided on, we want to do this. It turns out to not be possible…A large group the consensus might be, “Okay, no. Move onto the next thing.” A smaller group compromise or works things out.
AM: Well, this is Group Material. Because Group Material started, I don’t know if you’re doing them –
LW: Someone else is doing them.
AM: They started as a very big bunch and then they had a battle over their premises on Tenth Street. Shit, I can’t remember. I think it was Thirteenth Street! One of those. In the East Village, in ‘81. They had a fight over the space and the group shrank from 17 to like three or four. At that point they had the flexibility to do –
LW: Exactly what they wanted.
AM: But we really wanted to make a gesture, with the New Museum exhibition. I think it would have been great, if they had gone for it. It would have been very exciting. Basquiat did a painting or a print edition of a soup kitchen at that time. It would have been great.
LW: Especially in New York at that time.
AM: Yes. But indeed there was a negotiating committee with the New Museum. They were consulting. There was a lot of, there was about as much flexibility…I think we were just demanding too much of the institution. Particularly with Marcia Tucker being way out on a limb as she was anyway, she just couldn’t go that far.
LW: So they weren’t being unreasonable, they were being a museum.
AM: They were being realistic. They didn’t want to lose their tenancy.
LW: I guess they weren’t zoned to be a soup kitchen.
AM: The New School is a university, an institution. They don’t do that kind of thing. At least not in this country.
LW: Can you remember some other things that didn’t happen?
AM: Well, the Jungle Show didn’t happen in Los Angeles. That was later on. Holly Block was pushing that. That was like in ‘84, ‘85 maybe.
LW: What was that?
AM: It was a big thematic installation, group show. That was supposed to join the LA and New York artists. And they didn’t do it. I think it was MoCA – Museum of Contemporary Art, [the “temporary contemporary”]. It was proposed, it came close but that didn’t happen. That was sad didn’t happen because that had come from my…..[?]. That’s most of what I remember. I was concerned with my own stock [?], which was in a permanent stage of incompletion, so….
LW: Did you get over by Colab?
AM: To some extent. I also just didn’t have the chops to do what I wanted to do. It was easier to work on one of those collaborative projects. That remains true….(laughs) It’s easier for Rob Storr to run this seminar and have you guys be his troops than it is to sit down and do it himself, any day of the week.
LW: Sure. Although I have an idea what his schedule is like, so it would never get done. It’s just not possible. One person just can’t do everything. But people do do their own things.
AM: Well, he’s doing exactly what William Gerdts did here. This right-wing art historian, Americanist, and the scourge of all the theory people at the Grad Center but who I thought operated wonderfully.
LW: Gerdts is not the scourge of all theory people. He’s a little too open minded for that. I think he’s wonderfully not engaging in it. Not without knowing it, just finding something better.
AM: In terms of art movements, which I think have been sort of irrelevant for a long time since artists have ceased to name themselves. They are memory devices. Colab was NeoExpressionist. If you had to label it from a 100 years ago, that’s what I’d say it was. It’s a reassertion of traditional media, and a lot of people –
LW: What about the social aspect?
AM: Sure. (tape ends)… (side two) Art schools and academies of art Kind of mopping up. Cashing in on general trends. Another thing that happened was the Picasso retrospective At MOMA, which had a big impact. I think that was very important and people don’t really talk about it. The East Village Eye did a cover with Picasso wearing a tee-shirt that said, ”Picasso Sucks,” which I thought was perfect. Totally punk, totally stupid but it expressed perfectly [inaud.: the sense of abhorrence?]. Painting returning.
LW: Love/hate. Do you remember when that was?
AM: ‘80-’81. ’80 I think. The New Museum did the Bad Painting show in like -
LW: That was their second show ever. Marcia says she wanted it to be the first but knew that it would get very negative press, and didn’t want to start that way.
AM: Has anybody talked to her? She’s not well, I know that.
LW: You know I don’t know. Martaza Vallee [name, unclear ] did the New Museum and I think he read through a lot of her papers but I think he also did speak to her.
AM: Great. Hope he recorded it. It’s important. She not going to give too many more. Somebody should talk to Liza. Is somebody doing Avalanche?
LW: Somebody did Avalanche. Willoughby Sharp is very sick. And actually I think that Liza Bear doesn’t want to talk about it. I’m sure that that was the answer. That she wanted nothing to do with it anymore.
(Eliding some chit chat.)
LW: On Avalanche, they were obviously connected to 112 Greene and Food, so there’s a little bit of crossover there, but it sounded like to me like it was really Willoughby Sharp and Liza Bear, and they did the whole shebang. Other people were involved because they were being written about, or they were friends but they weren’t involved in production.
AM: I have a tape of a lecture that Willoughby gave a few years ago, which explains the trajectory of their career but it’s post Avalanche.
LW: But what did he have to do with Colab? Was it just at the beginning?
AM: He was the Mighty Mogul of the art world. There aren’t that many tapes with him on it. He did a cable TV show. The sampler that I distribute doesn’t have pictures of him. He’s like (emphasis) an incredibly expansive person. He talks really loud and he introduces people to each other.
LW: He’s a center figure.
AM: Big time. Wears a hat constantly. Comes from the Upper East Side, New York private school, connected to the Sharp electronics company family –
LW: So, that’s the Sharp -
AM: They bought him out because he was just too crazy for them. I mean that’s what he does. Big time connector and loud as hell and during the Sixties he used to do things like get stoned on acid and strip nude during panel discussions. He’s quite a case. He was the Yippies’ Minister of Culture, according to his own recollections.
LW: Did he stay much involved with Colab?
AM: Not really, no. But he came back in the mid-Eighties, after all the people had gotten their gallery deals, during the afterlife of Colab. Willoughby came back in and so did Stefan Eins. Unfortunately for all those guys they didn’t throw up any stars.
LW: What do you mean by that?
AM: The second wave of Colab didn’t throw up any stars so no one pays any attention to what they did.
LW: What did they do?
AM: Lots.
LW: As Colab?
AM: Yes, as Colab. They did a lot of shows at ABC NO Rio. ABC also didn’t throw up any art stars, except Kembra Pfahler. And Seth Tobocman, who is a serious art star but who refuses to be one.
LW: Don’t think I know him.
AM: Yes, well he is the anarchist artist, par excellence. [inaud]…We lost him.
LW: So, ‘79 you would say is the end of the first wave. Not to redo what David Little did but just to keep things straight. And then there’s Second Wave and –
AM: Before the Real Estate show. The Real Estate show was an extra-Colab event.
LW: Extra?
AM: Yes. I have a book, I’m not sure you’ve seen it.
LW: ABC No Rio Dinero. It’s a good book.
AM: It’s all spelled out there in detail.
LW: No, I can finally take a copy home. I saw a copy in the Fales library, which is under lock and key. [etc] I like the Tim Rollins piece in it.
AM: “See You in the East River.”
LW: I was wondering, because it’s not ever really addressed: how are people interacting with the community. And this seemed to be an incredibly honest way of getting at it. Like, no matter what, it is a strange thing to have these artists on the block. How do you understand what they’re doing, even if it’s completely well intentioned, trying to be integrated? There’s still got to be a gulf there.
AM: Well, as a Puerto Rican poet said to me, “First you artists moved into Soho, where we worked in the factories. Now you are moving into our houses.” Exactly right. And so the Puerto Ricans went to Williamsburg –
LW: So really it’s the Puerto Ricans who bring on the gentrification, not the artists. The first wave is the Puerto Ricans –
AM: It’s de-industrialization and the end of the working class, the industrial working class, in the cities. That’s it. There’s been a whole collapse, and replacement by the gentry. That’s it. Caroline Ware in Greenwich Village, which she published in like 1929, what did she call it? “Inmigration.” People coming back into the city. It’s an old process but with the de-industrialization, that was really the end. That was the 70s. There are all these guys who study [inaud.] Neil Smith David Harvey. ”The Revanchist City.”
LW: The neighborhood was, the Lower East Side, was in large part abandoned not through choice, but through neglect of buildings.
AM: It was a deliberate policy of the city government and the financial institutions to withdraw services, in hopes that people would leave because it became unlivable. This is documented actually, this is not any longer lore of [inaud] urban theorists.
LW: So how did the city feel about artists moving in there?
AM: They were encouraging them.
LW: Because they understood what follows?
AM: Yes.
LW: And was there an awareness, were the artists aware of their role in that cycle?
AM: Well, after 1980, yeah. Everyone knew. We were doing that, we did that Real Estate show. It was on top of a lot of other work that had been done by artists in Soho, on a political level. I’m not sure that there’s a good account of this. Jane Jacobs was involved in resisting the Cross Manhattan Expressway. Actually the new book that just came out by Richard Kostelanetz, Soho, was somewhat an account of this. It’s a very episodic kind of book.
LW: I worked for Richard when I was 19. I was one of his many interns…I know this is written down somewhere but the founders of ABC No Rio: you and Becky Howland were the first directors?
AM: Right. The people who did the Real Estate show, who were the committee for the Real Estate show, that was me and Becky and Bobby [G; Robert Goldman], Walter Robinson was in it, Christy Rupp, they didn’t continue to be involved with the space, [inaud. name? Ann Monig?] and Ann Messner and Peter Moenig. Ann and Peter also didn’t continue to be involved with the space.
LW: Did they continue to be involved with Colab?
AM: No. Ann and Peter did not although Peter worked at Fashion Moda, and I think Ann did as well but they weren’t really joiners.
Peter went back to Germany, he was just in the States for a short time. They have a son who became a marine. Contrary to rumor, He did not go to Fallujah.
LW: What you just said about joiners is interesting. One doesn’t think about artists [as joiners]. The notion is of the artist as a solitary figure is the opposite of a joiner but here you have at least for a time a whole lot of artist groups.
AM: Artists join [groups, organizations] all the time. This is a bourgeois myth. Sad to say. Some people try to live up to it of course, and there’s this whole mystic thing but…..Artists train in collective situations, they are certainly attracted to art making in a collective situation. Art school is extremely collective. Then they get out, and they join professional associations.
LW: Maybe the gallery situation is, not the exception, but puts a little bit of a knock in that.
AM: Well, there you have a dealer who is collaborating with you. This is my theoretical, or my second thesis: That art is by nature, artistic production is by nature, collective. As is self-evident in music, in theatre and film but even in visual art. In order for Jeff Koons or Tom Otterness to make these large public sculptures they have to have large crews.
LW: Matthew Barney.
AM: Matthew Barney makes film, that’s his paradigm.
LW: Then you have people like Picasso and Braque, if you just want to take the painter, and Cubism comes out of two people, or many more, but at least two, not one. And it doesn’t make sense when you try to split it.
AM: Talk to Jack Flam about that. He claims that Picasso’s Cubism is immediately evident, and Braque’s is an imitation.
LW: What do you think, looking back, is the legacy of Colab?
AM: Well, they showed that it could be done. And it opened the gates for a whole lot of stuff that was present but hadn’t come to public attention. 1980s were just this roar of infatuation with art. Artists were like the media darlings. The Times Square show kind of opened that up. Plus, there were great artists involved.
LW: And do you think that they were very much influenced by their participation in Colab?
AM: Some of them very much. Kiki and Tom, definitely. Jenny, less so. Keith Haring, he had his own crew. That was afterwards. Jean Michel, pretty much the same. Those are Mudd Club, Paradise Club guys. Club guys. Group Materials changed their strategies based on what we did. They realized that it was as important to make art, to make people pay attention to you as it was to make your social statement.
LW: To combine the two.
AM: Yes. And a lot of what was happening in political art, was that anything that was heterodox, that was outside the paradigm of Socialist Realism, was shunted to one side. It wasn’t reproduced in Socialist or Communist magazines because it didn’t fit the mold. So all of that odd production kind of came into the center. I think Conceptual art is responsible for that. I think Colab kind of opened the door for a broader acceptance of political art. There were many pieces in the Times Square Show and other Colab shows that were overtly political and stridently so. If you look at people like Tom or John Ahearn – their work is not political, although there are political angles, and aspects. And they themselves have strong political points of view. But they don’t get involved in Artists Call, they don’t go to CISPES meetings or anything like that.
At that time, before Perestroika, the traditional Socialist infrastructure was in place. A lot of people who were political artists were red diaper babies. It was a very different situation. Have you read or seen Hemingway’s Artists on the Left? It came out in the last couple of years. Definitely worth looking at. Andrew Hemingway, British art historian.
The Times Square Show was basically Sex and Death and Schlock in Times Square. It was more than just the Line. And Lippard was definitely a person who was with the Line.
I couldn’t stand PADD meetings. You’d have people there who said, ”I spent twenty years in the mine worker’s union. You have to learn from the working class. You artists are too arrogant.” And I would go, “Yes., yes… I’m getting out of here, man! This is too much.”
You have to have a certain amount of commitment to an ideological line to go for that stuff.
LW: Was there a point at which Colab ever seemed to be getting to an ideological line, or was getting close?
AM: No. Too many drugs. Well, it wasn’t really confusion. There were always different opinions coming in there. The ideological agendas weren’t upper most, they were around and behind certain people’s arguments but they weren’t foreground. The thing about the soup kitchen at the New Museum. We just thought it would be a fantastic piece. It makes a statement of course.
LW: In the end it was about art.
AM: Yes. And that’s also true for Group Material. I’ve talked to Julie, and Doug Ashford exhaustively, Doug particularly, and that’s it. “It’s really cool!” That’s what Doug ultimately comes down to. “That was so cool.” Who cares about the ideology, it’s making a certain kind of delightful noise. [I’m sure DA would reject this. –AM]
LW: A cacophony.
AM: A good eye. And when Amy Downs took the windows out of the second floor of the Fashion Lounge, it was amazing at the Times Square Show. It was during the summer and the breeze came in, and people looked out. And now they do that all over the East Village. They take the front doors off the Bistro, it’s designed so the whole thing comes off. So if we were to make a soup kitchen on University Place, 14th Street, near the Welfare Office, it would have been amazing!
LW: It would still be amazing.
AM: Exactly. It will never happen. Every time one of these shows happens, you want to say, if there’s going to be a show about Collaborative Projects or Fashion Moda, “What are you going to do on the street?” “Nothing.” It’s history.
In that sense, this whole phenomenon has a lot to do with graffiti. Schwartzman’s book, Street Art, is one of the best essays written about the conjunction between the graffiti impulse and street art impulse. The streets of the artists’ districts, Soho, East Village, Tribeca, were thick with posters, solid. Everybody was on the street. That was just going on. It was a continuum, putting it out there for everybody.
LW: So, for instance, was Jenny doing picturisms [unclear] on posters? Of course. It would be obvious as you were walking down the street.
AM: It was one of dozens of posters. It wasn’t like a Guiliani situation where people went, “Oh My God, Art!”
LW: So that’s where graffiti comes in because it was so ever-present?
AM: The artists themselves were making inroads through Fashion Moda [unclear, I presume inroads into the graffiti world]. That’s why I wanted to do an ABC No Rio and the Times Square Show at Deitch Gallery, because ABC No Rio, everything that was there went to Times Square. And the same thing happened at Fashion Moda. Almost everything that they had been doing for almost two years they brought to Times Square….They were feeders going into Times Square from the South Bronx and the Lower East Side; and the Mudd Club, Tribeca.
LW: Was there performance that fed into the Times Square Show from there?
AM: Keith Haring and Basquiat [loud noise, obscures voices]. The so-called Colab glamour faction went. Diego Cortez, Eric Mitchell, Gordon Stevenson; Edit Deak was deeply involved in the Mudd Club. Scott and Beth were kind of outside that circle. They were involved with Max’s Kansas City. They were showing their films there.
And all the stuff that came out in Diego’s show was sort of cleaning up and harboring what was present in the Times Square Show. That was second. As Steven Power, Espo the graffiti artist says, “It’s not good to be on the tip of the arrow. You want to be a little ways back.” Diego made tons of money dealing Basquiat and all these other neo-Expressionists from Europe.
LW: Was he resented?
AM: No, I don’t think he was thought of that much.
[Well over half way into second side: 358. which means there’s more… but that seems like enough, no? – transcriber]