Thursday 21 April 2011

New York Downtown Scene 1970s - exhibition at the Barbican, London

I realised I tantalisingly mentioned the Barbican exhibition at the end of my post of my new job, then got so excited about the Researcher's Tales at the BFI that I forgot about the Barbican.  However, it definitely was only temporarily forgotten as it was such a breathtaking exhibition that I'm actually hoping I've got time to go back!

View of 'Floor of the Forest', Barbican

'Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown and Gordon Matta-Clark - Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York, 1970s' is on until 22 May and I would recommend it to anyone in or visiting London.  It was the last exhibition I went to see with a friend who's since moved back to Israel (if you're reading this, I hope you make it back to London soon!) and what a lovely day we had.  It was lovely and sunny, we saw this exhibition, wandered around the Barbican complex, saw part of the original wall of London, then went to meet other friends in 'The Book Club' pub in Shoreditch - a packed and fun day!

I've read so much about New York in the 1970's, in Tim Lawrence's fantastic biography of Arthur Russell Hold On To Your Dreams, in Patti Smith's Just Kids, and most recently in City Boy by Edmund White.  So I'd heard of Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown and Gordon Matta-Clark without ever having seen or experienced their work.  As the title states the exhibition is about their work in New York in the 1970s and it covers dance, performance art, photography, film - but none of them in quite such a straightforward way as that makes them sound.  For example Gordon Matta-Clark's cut outs of buildings - at first I thought, yes interesting, replica's of sections of dilapidated buildings, however... they weren't replicas, it was actual sections of buildings!  He had taken photographs of the cut-outs and it was just such a painstaking looking process and so clever, I loved it! I read a good post about him here, which is also where I got the image below from.

Interior view of conical intersect
We were lucky to arrive just in time for 'Walking on the Wall' a performance piece by Trisha Brown.  This really played with your sense of perspective and space and was spell-binding and fun to watch.  The performances are on every day - if I go back I'd love to see Floor of the Forest! Laurie Anderson's performance pieces which she had photographed were so much fun as well, for example there was one series of photographs of her lying in various places, on a bench, in a train station, on a beach.  The premise was to see if sleeping in different places altered her dreams.

There were a large number of film pieces by Gordon Matta-Clark and Trisha Brown and whilst I really enjoyed all of them they also brought out my archivist side as the quality of some of them was great, they'd obviously been preserved, there were others which were really very grainy and quite difficult to make everything out clearly.  That made me very sad as anyone who sees these works could see how deserving of preservation and care they are.  Though I guess at the time if the artist just kept a print themselves, maybe in a loft or cupboard then the chances of it being well preserved are less.  It was just so much fun to see them all though that the quality was really of minor importance to the effect and the experience!

Having read so much about the music scene in New York it was great to see another side to the New York of the 1970s - I know at the time it would have been edgy, no doubt dangerous, and pretty poor too - but I'd still have loved to have experienced it!

Tree in blossom outside the Barbican

1 comment:

  1. I would love to see this exhibition but sadly don't think I'll make down in May. I'm ready City Boy now and really enjoying all the details and observations about NY in the 1970s.