For months L.A. MoCA’s “Art in the Streets” exhibition has been a source of hype and controversy, but it’s not the only street-focused show worth seeing this month. Opening tomorrow night at Shepard Fairey’s Subliminal Projects, “Art, Access & Decay: 1975–1985” features early works from some 40 artists including DAZE, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Joe Lewis and David Wojnarowicz, among many others. “I wanted to do something a little more roots,” says gallery director Katherine Cone, who joined Subliminal last summer after serving as gallery director for Robert Berman’s C2 Gallery for three years. “Street [art] really started at a time when these people were working in dilapidated suitcase shows where there were Sol LeWitt drawings for $15 and people were making their own T-shirts. That’s what I wanted to highlight, this creative time of decay when artists used the city and whatever they had at their disposal.”
The show isn’t meant to rival MoCA’s, explains Cone, but she does hope for the two to “walk side by side.” It’s an ambitious goal for an ambitious director, who’s been progressively transforming Fairey’s exhibition space from a “hobby” operation to a real destination that hopes to balance street and fine art by the likes of Raymond Pettibon, Ryan McGinness, Alex Prager, Mary Jane Ansell and Jonathan Yeo. Cone says the idea for “Art, Access & Decay” started when she began talking to L.A. critic Peter Frank last fall and he suggested roping in photographer Lisa Kahane to co-curate. She had just released a book called Do Not Give Way To Evil: Photographs of the South Bronx, 1979–1987, which chronicles the South Bronx cultural center Fashion Moda during those years.
“All of these D.I.Y. artists were coming together at that time and [Kahane] had all this work documenting these artists doing their art and she’s basically still in touch with all of those people,” adds Cone, who flew to New York during Armory Week to meet with all the living participants in the show at Kahane’s studio. “Some of them hadn’t seen each other in 30-plus years. It was pretty amazing to hear their stories and to pull out the original zines showing work that’s in this show.”
To add context, Kahane has hung her photographs beside many of the original works. You’ll see her picture of Joe Lewis assuming the position in a Moda jacket next to the artist’s 1982 pencil drawing The Mine, or a picture of Keith Haring beside a catalog he tagged with a marker, along with original posters from the historic Real Estate and Times Square shows. Other highlights include Andrea Callard’s rental-market-skewering photo montage, Lots of Space, Great Light, Christy Rupp’s “Reagan Rat” stencil on the cover of the February 19, 1981 edition of the Times (which augured the Great Communicator’s “Day of Reckoning”), and Stefan Eins’s paint-splashed wood collage titled Horseshoe Crab.
“Looking at this work, I can only imagine what these artists were feeling at the time” says Cone, recalling an impromptu series of D.I.Y. collaborations between her boss and Pettibon that she facilitated at breakneck speed for Subliminal’s recent punk show, “Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die.” Cone adds that “art is about remembering the time, and that’s what this current show does.”