Alternative Histories: New York Art Spaces, 1960 to 2010

Article excerpt

EDITED BY LAUREN ROSATI AND MARY ANNE STANISZEWSKI/EXIT ART AND MIT PRESS/2012/408 PP./$40.00 (HB)

Beginning in the 1960s, and accelerating in the 1970s, the New York City art world began to undergo a transformation as grassroots spaces began to proliferate, operating in pointed contrast to (he commercial and institutional structures of for-profit galleries and museums. These new ventures, often artist-driven, strove to separate themselves from the innate conservatism and lack of risk-taking that dominated the art establishment, and experimented with a variety of organizational models. They focused on young artists, new forms (including video art, performance art, and experimental music), and a broad range of political, social, and identity issues. A 2010 exhibition at Exit Art in New York, and this complementary publication, seek to "contribute to an ongoing process of mapping, recording, and analyzing this history," according to co-editor Mary Anne Staniszewski.

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Seen in that light, Alternative Histories succeeds as a roadmap for future, more in-depth research and publication, and as a tantalizing evocation of, in particular, the heady days of 1960s and '70s grassroots and alternative arts exhibition in New York City. It also charts the legacy of these early pioneering spaces, collectives, storefronts, and community groups as they led the way for a continual stream of new endeavors. The Exit Art show was comprised mainly of primary-source ephemera--photos, posters, documents--supplemented by more than sixty oral histories available at the show for listening. Alternative Histories, the catalog, draws from this material. Divided into three sections, it begins with short essays by artist and educator Jacki Apple, who begins to tease out definitional notions of what "alternative" is; NYU professor and curator Melissa Rachleff, who offers a critical survey of some of the existing literature on alternative spaces; and Exit Art assistant curator and PhD candidate Lauren Rosati, who moves the discussion to the present with a consideration of contemporary platforms for arts organizing and exhibition--including the web, collaborative ventures, itinerant, conceptual, and virtual spaces, and direct actions that she sees as less oppositional to traditional spaces and instead, more supplementary ("extra-institutional models," as she terms them). …