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Gallery 98

Collecting COLAB: Ephemera, Photography & Multiples, 1978-1985

By Marc H. Miller

Warren_Portraits copy

Young artists who arrived in New York in the 1970s confronted a depressing reality.  The city teetered on bankruptcy; housing was either too expensive or too decrepit and dangerous; and the art world they hoped to conquer was in fact small, elitist, and already flooded with artists from the previous generation.  Rather than succumbing to bleak prospects, artists seized the moment, reacting to the times with new forms of socially-engaged art, and creating new venues designed to expand and broaden art audiences. Distinctions between fine art and popular art were challenged; artists embraced new formats like performance and street art; and politics, sexuality, and multiculturalism moved to the foreground.

At the center of this change was Collaborative Projects Inc. (COLAB), a loosely organized group founded in 1978 to enable artists to take advantage of newly available government grants.  COLAB’s ever-changing nexus of thirty to sixty artists included many who later achieved individual fame, but the group’s real contribution was the philosophy of creative engagement it advanced through collective, do-it-yourself actions: mounting exhibitions like the Manifesto Show (1979), the Real Estate Show (1980) and the Times Square Show (1980); and starting art spaces like Fashion Moda in the South Bronx (1978–93), ABC No Rio in the Lower East Side (1980–present), and the sequence of pop-up A More Stores (early 1980s).  As a lens through which to understand a changing art world, COLAB is similar to an earlier artist group, Fluxus.

Gallery 98 tells the COLAB story by means of ephemera (posters, flyers, and promotional material), photographic portraits of COLAB members, and a few art multiples that illustrate the group’s populist aesthetics and political concerns.  The objects were selected because they document COLAB’s history, but because they were created by significant artists, most items also have aesthetic appeal.  Collecting COLAB tackles a big subject but it is in fact just a small sampling of major pieces of ephemera and art by some of the group’s best-known artists that provides an introduction to the fuller Gallery 98 inventory, which includes a large selection of works by many more artists connected with COLAB.

EXHIBITION HIGHLIGHTS:  An invitation to the closing party for John Ahearn’s South Bronx Hall of Fame at Fashion Moda (1979); a sheet of Truisms in English and Spanish distributed by Jenny Holzer at her Fashion Moda show (1979); a silkscreen poster by Charlie Ahearn and Jane Dickson for the Times Square Show; flyers by Coleen Fitzgibbon and Robin Winters for the Real Estate Show; a complete set of Tom Otterness’ Zodiac Love plaster sculptures (1982-87) originally sold in COLAB stores featuring artist-made, low-priced multiples; the silkscreened poster for “ABC No Rio Island of Negative Utopia” by Kiki Smith (1983); and Tom Warren’s portfolio of COLAB artist portraits taken at the itinerant photo studios he set up at ABC No Rio and Fashion Moda.


Exhibition Items

Photostat Enlargement of COLAB Members Contact List, c. 1984

Tom Warren, Photo Portfolio COLAB Artists Portraits, 1981-1984

Stefan Eins, Poster, 1980

John Ahearn “South Bronx Hall of Fame” Closing Party Invitation, 1979

Jenny Holzer, “Truisms” in English and Spanish, 1979

Jane Dickson, “City Maze” Poster, 1980

Johnny CRASH Matos, Graffiti Exhibition Poster and Press Release, 1980

T-Shirt for Documenta 7 Store Organized by Jenny Holzer & Stefan Eins, 1982

Jane Dickson and Charlie Ahearn,Times Square Show Poster, 1980

Tom Otterness & John Ahearn, Times Square Show Floor Plan & Artists List, 1980

Coleen Fitzgibbon, “Landlord Extortion” Poster, 1979 – 1980

Robin Winters, “Landlords Do Not…” Poster/ Circular, 1980

Kiki Smith, ABC No Rio at The Kitchen, Screen Printed Poster, 1983

Dick Miller, Spray Stencil Shopping Bag, 1980

Walter Robinson,”Kitty,” signed print, 1982

Christy Rupp, “Rat” Spray Stencil Tree Ornament, c. 1980-83

Kiki Smith and Jolie Stahl, Notepad With Uterus Drawings, 1983

Alan Moore and Marc Miller, ABC No Rio, 1985