Hipsters are like Hamsters
Dash Snow, New York art person died this week. I did not know him; and though I once ran into him, I had no idea who he was until reading his obituary.
So I could be confused, in whole or in part.
If you look at the catalog entry for this 2007 installation, you can see that Snow was a stager of events, post-rave happenings. Mostly he seems to have come from art collector money, which enabled him to party and maybe to doggedly spree for so long and document it so well that the people around him called it art. This is all laid out in the obit.
A few years back, a friend and I were wandering Broadway below Houston around midnight. She and I passed by a derelict building, a boarded three or four story stone faced building slotted into a long block. The door was open. Music was playing. The foyer was destroyed with walls ripped down to the studs with broken bits of building material, paint cans and junk laying around. So my friend and I went in.
The building was in a state of arrested demolition. Stairs led to a platformed bathroom framed up for walls either never installed or subsequently destroyed. Within the bathroom, was a toilet and a cabinet and a hooded worklight. On either side of the foyer was an entrance to the back. Beyond the foyer was all one room.
The space had been hollowed out down to the brick and crammed with ten or so studios. At the back was an apse,with three very tall windows with out glass losing the boards that separated them from the microscopic waste area out back. The artist studios were informally divided workareas, and mounds of product separated them. People were really cranking the art out. A man with a beard sat in a leather office chair amid the squalor giving us the stink eye. We had a brief conversation, basically consisting of “who the hell are you”, “I just needed to use the bathroom.” He actually laughed at that. “Mind if we look around?” I got a dismissive hand gesture, turned around and walked around, then down into the basement. The basement was like that Stephen King short story where they fight the rats. Only instead of rats, there were about a billion canvases, bits of wood, pvc, light bulbs, art junk.
We left, after I used the bathroom.
Reading Dash Snow’s Guardian obituary, I was struck by the extremely hostile tone of most readers’ comments: this is trash, another wasted life, no loss; contrasted with this:
I could appreciate that, if it was indeed him whom I saw and irritated. I can also sympathize with moralistic appraisal of the Guardian readers – middle class, university educated, left liberals – that anybody with the nose ears eyes ears and skin of the art world is not just living a dream but ought to give something back. What it is you’re giving back depends on what the middle class consumers of art want, but what the artists are capable of putting out.
Around the time I found the studio space on Broadway, I went to a P.S. 1 exhibit on L.E.S artists against Reagan. I can’t recall the art so much as its political commitment: contemporary exhibit brochures incorporated manifestos in support of the people of El Salvador and Nicaragua and long lists of East Village artists signed petitions against museums accepting donations from conservative foundations. The artists of the time clearly intended to motivate attendees to organize in their own communities, and with the expectation that something would be done.
The L.E.S. artists of 1980 were coming out of a decade when the Socialist Workers Party ran candidates in NYC school board elections, when Sixties revolutionaries were still getting down to brass tacks with Maoism and you could pick up an independent leftist weekly, the Guardian on a New York newstand. This is not to mention the broader still countercultural milieu of the Village Voice, Black Nationalism, punk rock, you name it in late 70’s NYC. These movements had peaked in with the end of the war in Vietnam. The appeal to a mass movement seems nostalgic in 1980, but even more so in 2001.
The NYC and European counterculture of the nineties was rave culture and drug culture. There is or was a political component, of taking back the public space, of forming situational communities in dance culture. Groups like that aimed to reclaim public spaces in the late Nineties. Seattle seemed to surprise everyone observing, but it did come from somewhere. Not from the high-art world though.