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Clayton Patterson, the creator of the Acker Awards, presents one of the Acker boxes to Veronica Vera, the recipient of the “Sexual Evolutionary” award in 2017. Each box contains contributions from other Acker Award winners. Photo by Bob Krasner.
The presentation ceremony for the New York Acker Awards, taking place this coming Sunday at the Theater for the New City in the East Village, marks the return of a noteworthy annual event honoring “avant-garde excellence.”
The event is especially notable for those interested in ephemera because of the unusual prize that is given to each Acker Award recipient. Instead of a trophy, winners receive a special box (designed by a different artist every year) filled with art, CD’s, zines and other items created by that year’s crop of Acker winners.
First initiated in 2012 by Lower East Side icon Clayton Patterson, the Acker Awards honor and preserve the independent downtown spirit that flourished during the final decades of the last century and now struggles to survive in a time of gentrification and commodification.
The award winners, for the most part personally selected by Patterson, now total over one hundred famous and not-so-famous artists and activists. Anthony Haden-Guest’s essay in this year’s Acker Award booklet (edited by former East Village Eye publisher Leonard Abrams), identifies them as “outlaws, misfits, radicals, visionaries and dreamers.” Some are, of course, a bit more conventional. Among the winners this year is Marc H Miller, the founder of Gallery 98, who has long been active in the downtown community.
Acker Award boxes now total eight. Each one is a time capsule that preserves a piece of downtown history. Seeing all the boxes together as a group would be great, but as intended, they have been given to Acker Award winners and are now widely scattered. Patterson however does retain boxes each year, and has recently articulated the hope that a complete set might some day be acquired by an appropriate institution or archive.
In 2016, Ethan Minsker designed this Acker Award box with a paper mache switchblade knife attached to the top. Amongst the items in the box visible in the above photos are an envelope containing a photograph by David Godlis, Anthony Zito’s commemorative cup with a portrait of Holly Woodlawn, Curt Hoppe’s photo of Arturo Vega with his Ramones logo tattoo, Stanley Stellar’s photograph of Ethyl Eichelberger’s back with a tattoo by Ruth Marten after a design by Ken Tisa, and the 2016 Acker Awards poster featuring a portrait of Kathy Acker. Photos by Curt Hoppe.
The Acker Awards have left another legacy. While the Acker boxes contain contributions from award winners who are still alive, posthumous recipients are honored by cups with their portraits painted by Anthony Zito. These cups from 2018 feature portraits of David Wojnarowicz, Klaus Nomi, John Sex, Huck Snyder, Cookie Mueller, and others. Cups are randomly placed in different Acker Award boxes.
This year’s Acker Award winners include Marc H Miller, the founder of Gallery 98. His contribution to the 2021/22 boxes are copies of the East Village pictorial map with art by James Romberger and Marguerite van Cook, published by Miller’s company Ephemera Press in 2001.