Times Square Show RevisitedHunter exhibit gets a second look
Contributing Writer To most, Times Square is the catalyst for New Years, innumerable Broadway and off-Broadway shows, flashing billboards and tourists who flock from all over the world to stand in the navel of the universe. In 1980, however, Times Square was a mecca for sex, drugs and violence. At a time when buildings in the area were left abandoned while affordable housing was already in high demand, a group of artists and social activists called Collaborative Projects organized the Times Square Show. The exhibit aimed to raise awareness of the decay taking place in New York City at the time. Over thirty years later, Hunter’s latest exhibit Times Square Show Revisited reflects on the 1980 exhibition that changed the focus of the art world in the late 20th century.
The original Times Square Show included over 100 artists whose experimental works spanned across four floors of an abandoned building on the corner of 41st Street and 7th Avenue. According to Shawna Cooper, curator of the Revisited show, the original exhibit “served as a forum for the exchange of ideas, a testing-ground for work in progress and a catalyst for exploring new artistic directions.”
At the time, these artists sought to challenge the status quo by refusing to accept the prominent expressions of mainstream art, which they felt failed to reflect their day-to-day experiences. Cooper said, “Where figuration, object-making, cartoons and lowbrow art forms were eschewed by the commercial and institutional art world, these genres were embraced by young artists who made work with and for their friends.”
Walls flanked with artworks, photographs, audio and film stations provide an understanding of the circumstances that led these artists to work together, and demand more from society. Featuring works from 40 of the orginal participating artists, Revisted maintains the eclecticism of its forerunner. Black-and-white wallpaper with horizontal rows of handguns, one dollar bills and table utensils dominates the entrance of the gallery. In terms of style, the wallpaper is reminiscent of the pop art synonymous with Andy Warhol in the 1960s.
On the same wall, a poster for the “super action film” The Deadly Art of Survival shows an African-American man with blood streaming down his distant, perplexed face against the pattern of a steel fence. The poster is black and white, with the exception of the man’s purple skin, and red borders and words announcing the movie’s title, cast and screening locations. It immediately brings to mind the Civil Rights Movement, a theme which does not blatantly appear anywhere else in the exhibit. One questions why they are represented together and what the pieces mean as a whole. Co-curator Karli Wurzelbacher explains, “Though these reflections conflict at times, a remarkable number of commonalities surface throughout, including an interest in folk and popular art forms, and references to the 1960s.”
The artwork on display is countercultural, raw and honest. Portrait busts by John Ahearn protrude from the walls in the annex room of the gallery. They are fairly naturalistic and unidealized; the subject on the left, entitled Johnny, has black hair parted to the side and his skin is jaundiced. His expression is thoughtful as he looks off to the side with a cigarette dangling from his bearded mouth. The other bust, aptly named Green Robert, possesses a character whose skin is even more discolored. His head tilts back as he squints his eyes and holds out his tongue. Their strange expressions and stylized treatments are provocative, representing a portrait not displayed on a mantlepiece or as a commemorative item, but one found in the back alleys of the underworld.
The themes on display at Times Square Show Revisited are still powerful and potent today. The building once responsible as a medium for crime in New York City now assumes the very commercialism and mainstream revenue which artists fought against in the past. Times Square Show Revisited provides insight into the past; it preserves a moment in history at the crux of one of New York’s most transformative times.
The exhibit is featured in the West lobby until Dec. 8th