Michael Carter

Alphabet Slop: Re-Straining the East Village Art Scene, 1981-1986

The locus of the New Museum's recent "East Village USA" exhibition -- the period and place generally regarded as the "'80s East Village Art" phenomenon -- actually encompassed as many as 20 or 30 "East Villages," various scenes and circles rotating through Venn diagrams of intersections, casual alliance, community action and internecine rivalry. Competing styles and artists' goals were as numerous and as varied as the epistemologies presumed to underlie them.

Basquiat at the Brooklyn Museum

Because society is less concerned with understanding the meaning of artistic production than with promoting and profiting from name brand artists' commodities, it creates personal mythologies which insure the chosen's entry to the pantheon, all the more compelling if the artist has the good taste to die young. Keats, Kahlo, Pollock, Parker, Plath, Hendrix, Cobain, and thousands of other less recognizable names; usually some form of self-destruction is involved. ("Die young, and stay pretty", sang Blondie's Debbie Harry, who managed to avoid that fate.) In the 80s art world, the two meteors were Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Hagiography blinds hindsight, and the meaning and method of the work of both these artists are ripe for re-investigation. Though both were associated early on with the East Village, both saw the world (and the streets) as a greater canvas, to be re-coded and interpreted through a personal yet largely accessible visual hermeneutics