From the catalogue of the show ABC NO RIO: TEN YEARS, SEVEN DAYS
Kunstlerhaus, Hamburg, Germany
In 1980 a group of artists osctracized by the status-quo of the New York art world crated their own scene fueled by the fire of civil protest and political activism. This generally sincere, frequently naive and often calculated style of '80s radical chic was the trademark of Collaborative Projects, Inc. (Colab), the unofficial founder of ABC No Rio. Colab, who withdrew their name from any official mention in fear of adverse repercussions resulting from the extralegal Real Estate Show action, was the organization which spawned such artists as Jenny Holzer. ABC No Rio, which resulted from this protest was recognized as a showcase for Colab artists, a kind of skid row alternative museum with visibility. The artist-as-activist image was good press and served to raise many of the legitimate concerns and issues addressed in many of the early shows.
In 1983 the Colab base, rising successfully into the milieu of the mainstream art world, began to tire of the strain and distractions of politics; the meetings, rallys, negotiations, etc. As one artist put it, "We had to decide if we were going to be artists or p[oliticians," as if the one precluded the other--or as if they were an actual distinction between the two conditions. Nevertheless, the baton was passed to a new circle of influence, younger in spirit and respectful of the aura and groundwork laid by the founding collective. The new group, sensitive to the political and social concerns was less confined to the area of static art. Performance, music, dance, poetry and other ephemeral activities began to have equal prominence to visual art exhibitions. An educational program was successfuly established and implemented in the surrounding school district but later discontinued because of various difficulties. An apprenticeship program was also developed to engage the participation of inner city youth in various cultural experiences including gallery, museum and studio visits, theater, poetry, film, video and performance art events.
This epoch coincided with the East Village art hype of the '80s which was the prevalent focus of attention for the art world at the time. No Rio, though connected to many of the artists and activities of this "Art Boom," refused to accept the marketing and media hype. Because of its insistence on the critical examination of the manipulation of art and aesthetics as a tool of urban development (i.e., gentrification), No Rio was largely ignored.
ABC No Rio has always existed in a state of struggle, material deprivation, chaos. The fight with governmental adversaries--most prominently represented by our landlord, the City of New York, a major speculator--has been constant. There has always been a continual fight for survival because of the greed and ineptitude which is effected by the city government and its influences. The horror of urban development and decay somehow crystallizes at ABC No Rio, a microcosm for the struggle for humanity against devouring jaws of urban blight. No Rio is not a pretty place to be.
Since the beginning of the present decade the directorship of No Rio has again changed, though active support from every generation remains. The current focus is on "the non over-reliance of physical space," which is seen as an inevitability if the continuation of our ideals and ideas is to succeed; if we are not to become forever bound to the struggles of maintaining a piece of real estate for survival. Traveling shows such as this and the invitation of other groups and individuals to curate our space while we are touring is a new objective. We are also beginning to investigate the establishment of an international network of artists, social and political workers, educators and others who are interested in the constructive progression of our societal aims, which we hope are implicit in the work presented in this exhibition.
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