Back in the mid-1980s, when New York’s Lower East Side was still a ruined landscape of abandoned buildings and empty lots, a huge sculpture had a dramatic presence at the intersection of Rivington and Forsyth Street. With points rising up to twenty feet high, the densely packed jungle of welded scrap metal completely filled the large corner lot. Chaotic, lawless, and threatening, it would survive for only two years before being condemned as an illegal hazard and demolished by police in 1987.
Although the structure looked to many like a piece of outsider art, it was in fact the work of a group of artists: among them, Ray Kelly, Linus Coraggio, Ken Hiratsuka, Tovey Halleck, Robert Parker, and Toyo Tsuchiya. They called themselves the “Rivington School” as both a reference to the abandoned schoolhouse across the street and a self-parodying bid for art-historical recognition.
Few critics at the time, however, took the Rivington School seriously. It took last year’s publication of Rivington School: ’80s New York Underground (Istvan Kantor, ed.; London: Black Dog, 2016) to again direct attention to the group. The book revealed the surprising appeal of the youthful, anti-aesthetic, drug-and-alcohol-fueled creative tumult. The Rivington School suddenly looked like one of New York’s most authentic and interesting punk art strains.
Gallery 98’s new online exhibition Linus Coraggio, Toyo Tsuchiya, and the Rivington School, 1983–95explores the thirteen-year history of the Rivington School through the perspectives of two key artists. Coraggio and Tsuchiya didn’t just participate as artists, but each has also amassed an archive of ephemera and photographs that allows us to resurrect and contextualize a lost landmark of downtown New York in the 1980s.