Radical art collectives reemerge
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jan 19 11:24:10 MST 2003
NY Times Arts and Leisure, Jan. 19, 2003
Doing Their Own Thing, Making Art Together
By HOLLAND COTTER
To many Americans, the world feels more threatened and threatening today
than at any time since the 1960's. Terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the
prospect of war on Iraq and ever tightening security measures at home have
sent a hum of tension through daily life.
In the 1960's, comparable tension, excruciatingly amplified, produced a big
response: the spread of a counterculture, one that began with political
protest movements and became an alternative way of life. Among other
things, it delivered a sustained, collective "no" to certain values
(imperialism, moralism, technological destruction), and a collective "yes"
to others: peace, liberation, a return-to-childhood innocence.
The collective itself, as a social unit, was an important element in the
60's utopian equation. Whatever form the concept took the commune, the
band, the cult its implications of shared resources, dynamic interchange
and egos put on hold made it a model for change.
Even the art world, built on a foundation of hierarchies and exclusions,
produced its own versions. Activist groups like the Artworkers Coalition
and the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition made concerted attempts to pry
open institutional doors and let in a multicultural world. Simultaneously,
nonmilitant movements like the Dada-inspired Fluxus produced an ephemeral,
give-away, anyone-can-do-it art that amounted to a kind of passive
resistance to the existing market economy. Both approaches one forceful,
one gentle changed the way art was thought about, and the way it looked.
The collective impulse has never died out in American art; and now it is
surfacing again, for the most part outside New York. In cities like
Milwaukee, Providence, R. I., St. Louis and Philadelphia, as well as
several in Canada, an old countercultural model, often much changed, is
being revived, in some cases by artists barely out of their teens.
Many of the new art collectives are virtual: they reside on the Internet,
that intrinsically collective medium. They are fluid in size, and members
may not even know the identity of other members. The kinds of art they
produce vary widely, but when it is political it tends to be actively so.
To much of the art world, these collectives barely exist. Their work is
difficult to market; it's available to everyone free; traditional criteria
of judgment, the kind that make critics so comfortable with, say, painting,
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