Not Oprah’s Book Club: Pioneers of the Downtown Scene

I’m not going to lie. I am often nostalgic for a time in New York that I never got to experience. Pre-Giuliani, pre-cupcake mania and hipster bars, pre-incredibly-expensive-rents-that-make-creative-collaborations-tough. It just seems like it was easier to make things–art, books, salons, change, community–with good friends, back then.

One might argue that I am romanticizing, and indeed I probably am, but Prestel has just put out a book that does nothing but feed by tendency (as did Patti Smith’s Just Kids, of course). It’s called Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark: Pioneers of the Downtown Scene New York 1970s. It focuses on how these three friends and collaborators fed one another’s work on performance, the body, the urban environment and found spaces, and much more. The books has been released along with an exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London, focusing on the three artists’ inspired intersections.

Here’s a sense of the scene at that time:

They performed and made work in the streets and in a few alternative spaces for an audience that consisted largely of their friends and neighbors. Brown choreographed audacious works on buildings, rooftops, and in the streets and also ran classes in her loft for dancers and non-dancers alike. While making experimental art works with material from the streets, addressing urban problems and creating open-air performances, Matta-Clark did construction jobs, helping renovate loft buildings, and co-founded the artist-run restaurant Food, one of the few places to eat and gather in the neighborhood. Anderson, who was an art reporter and taught art history at local colleges, began creating a body of work that included sculpture, photography and street-based performances.

As you flip through the images–an eclectic mix of ever day snapshots to highly choreographed and sometimes even acrobatic scenes–you get this palpable sense of the heat of creation with no gatekeepers, no taste makers, no haters. Just people alive and in community and stretching the limits of their own imagination.

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