Gallery 98

40 Top Art Events of the Downtown Era:
A Timeline, 1974–1992

by Marc H. Miller and Jonah Wolf

Front

Announcement for Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition at Vrej Baghoomian gallery, 1988

As the historical contours of the “Downtown Era” come into focus, Gallery 98 thought it would be fun to present an online exhibition of posters and announcements as our own personal survey of this influential period.

The Downtown Era began in the 1970s, when aspiring artists of the baby-boomer generation arrived in New York. Over the next two decades, they would radically change the art world, opening it up to new forms of media, new modes of exhibiting art, and new social perspectives.

This “Top 40” includes two forerunners: Andy Warhol, who challenged art’s separation from mass culture, and Joseph Beuys, whose 1974 visit to New York introduced the idea of “social sculpture” that could effect political change. Curator Jeffrey Deitch perceptively grouped Warhol and Beuys with some of their earliest downtown followers in the 1975 exhibition “Lives,” subtitled “Artists Who Deal With Peoples’ Lives (Including Their Own) As The Subject And/Or The Medium Of Their Work.”

Multiple trends characterized the Downtown Era. The focus on lived experience naturally brought attention to overlooked social issues, and the particular concerns of women, people of color, and the queer-identified. Many young artists, weaned on rock music and TV, now saw themselves as entertainers or public commentators, appropriating the forms of mass media: movies, records, videos, comic books, magazines.

New modes of presentation and distribution accommodated the new wave of artistic production. Low rents gave artists the freedom to open “alternative spaces” outside the uptown gallery infrastructure. A.I.R., in SoHo, was founded by a cooperative of women artists to support their under-represented peers. Alanna Heiss converted P.S. 1, a Queens school building, into a space for large-scale installations and non-commercial exhibitions. Stefan Eins started Fashion Moda in the South Bronx as a way to bring together disparate communities. The artists’ group COLAB put on themed pop-up exhibitions like the “Real Estate Show” and “The Times Square Show.” Some artists took directly to the streets, with posters, billboards, graffiti, and (in the case of Red Spot) outdoor slide projections.

As ephemeral formats jockeyed with the more permanent media of painting and sculpture, these posters and announcements came to form a unique record of the era. But they are more than just documentation. Now that communication has shifted to digital channels, it has become easier to recognize these carefully designed paper objects as art works in their own right.

Exhibition Items

1974: Meet Joseph Beuys

Invitation, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts

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1974: A.I.R. Invitational

Invitation for exhibition of women artists curated by Lucy Lippard

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1975: "Items under $5"

Flyer for 3 Mercer St. Store exhibition curated by Stefan Eins

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1975: James Collins

Invitation for exhibition by conceptual art pioneer at John Gibson Gallery

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1975: "Lives"

Invitation for Fine Arts Building exhibition curated by Jeffrey Deitch

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1976: Inaugural exhibition at P.S. 1

Poster for the exhibition “Rooms”

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1978: "Punk Art"

Invitation to exhibition at Washington Project for the Arts

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1978: Amanda Feilding, "Trepanation for the National Health"

Invitation to exhibition at P.S. 1

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1978: Colette, "Justine and the Victorian Punks"

Poster for performance at Fiorucci

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1979: Jenny Holzer and Coleen FitzGibbon, "Manifesto"

Posters for exhibition at 5 Bleecker St.

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1979: John Ahearn, “South Bronx Hall of Fame”

Invitation to closing party at Fashion Moda

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1980: Real Estate Show

Flyer for exhibition, with drawing by Becky Howland

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1980: Times Square Show

Poster by Jane Dickson and Charlie Ahearn

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1980: Johnny "CRASH" Matos, "Graffiti Art Success for America"

Invitation to group exhibition at Fashion Moda

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1980: Edit deAk, "Dubbed in Glamour"

Poster for performance series at the Kitchen

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1980: ABC No Rio inaugural exhibition

Xerox flyer for “Artists for Survival”

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1981: Carnival Knowledge

Poster for “Bazaar Conceptions” carnival at the New School

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1981: A's

News and Calendar; silkscreen street poster by Arleen Schloss

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1981: Tenth Anniversary Benefit for the Kitchen

Invitation to exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery

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1981: Cindy Sherman, "New Work"

Invitation to exhibition at Metro Pictures

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1982: Lee Quiñones, "Rusto-LEE-um"

Invitation to exhibition at Fun Gallery

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1982: Madeleine Keller & Janet Ziff, "The Fine Art of Waitressing"

Invitation to performance at Just Above Midtown/Downtown

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1982: Tehching (Sam) Hsieh, "One Year Performance" (Outdoor Piece)

Poster for performance at New City Court Park

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1983: The Kitchen presents ABC No Rio, "The Island of Negative Utopia"

Screen-printed poster by Kiki Smith

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1983: Keith Haring

Poster for exhibition at Fun Gallery

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1984: "Graffiti/Post-Graffiti" on The Learning Channel

Announcement for ART/new york video

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1985: Guerrilla Girls/Jenny Holzer

Poster for group exhibition at Palladium

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1985 & 1986: "New York Film Festival Downtown"

Presented by Tessa Hughes-Freeland & Ela Troyano

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1986: "Fresh Fruit for Rotten Vegetables"

Poster for group exhibition at A&P Gallery

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1986: David Hammons and Public Art Fund, "Higher Goals"

Announcement for public installation at Cadman Plaza

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1986: Tim Rollins & K.O.S, "7th Annual South Bronx Show"

Poster for group exhibition at Fashion Moda, Longwood Arts Gallery, and Bronx River Gallery

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1987: Gracie Mansion Gallery Showcase

Invitation to video premiere at Private Eyes, 1987

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1987: Andy Warhol, "Recent Work"

Invitation to first posthumous exhibition

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1987: Red Spot, "The Talking Wall Show"

Flyer for outdoor series of “artist-made slide shows”

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1988: Jean-Michel Basquiat

Invitation to exhibition at Vrej Baghoomian

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1988: "Dial 1-800-HE TOUCHED ME!"

Flyer for party and art performance at the New Waterfront Museum

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1988: Keith Haring

Poster for exhibition at Tony Shafrazi Gallery

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1989: Bullet Space, "An Act of Resistance"

Invitation to group exhibition

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1991: Guerrilla Girls

Announcement for Public Art Fund billboard project

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1992: Lady Pink, Daze, Crash, Futura 2000, Lee

Poster for graffiti exhibition at Klarfeld Perry Gallery

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