ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery
Edited by Alan Moore and Marc Miller
New York: ABC No Rio with Collaborative Projects, 1985
ABC No Rio's beginnings were tentative as volunteer artist administrators, led by Alan Moore, Becky Howland and Bobby G, grappled with the challenges of running a gallery with no money and maintaining a run-down, store-front space in a deteriorating, largely abandoned building. During the first few months, there were break-ins, thefts and the sporadic incursion of the squatters who had previously occupied the space. The gallery had almost nothing to offer artists, not even "clean white walls," but at a time when there were few other options, many artists were happy to have access even to a raw, dilapidated space. Jon Keller organized the first show and along with Becky Howland, Felix Perez and others named the space through free associations inspired by the partially obliterated words "Abogado Notario" on the sign of a long gone Spanish law and notary across the street from the gallery. Shows were organized by "Real Estate Show" veterans: artists connected to leftist organizations or to Colab, the artists' group that initiated the "Real Estate Show" and served as the umbrella organization for No Rio. Christy Rupp used the space to re-stage "Animals in the City," previously shown at Fashion/Moda in the South Bronx. "Murder, Suicide and Junk" by Colab artist John Morton spotlighted negative themes but then the mood brightened with the "Positive Show," organized by Harry Spitz. Although people were bemoaning the political reality of Ronald Reagan as President, most enjoyed "Inaugural Reaction" and No Rio was fast becoming a place to relax, socialize and exchange ideas
This first show at the No Rio in May of 1980 was organized by Jon Keller as part of a Lower East Side festival for disarmament sponsored by the group Artists for Survival. The show evolved spontaneously as about a dozen artists put up current work on disarmament, urban reconstruction and other themes which mingled with the beauty posters left by the space's former tenants. It was a casual affair, and when the massive Times Square show was being organized for June, much of the work was carted away to that.
This first public opening of the gallery was mainly a time for discussions over the long table. Our visitors included artists, radicals, and the curious of the neighborhood. Raymond and Maria Acosta, the children from upstairs, sat around painting for hours. The problems of running a space also became apparent when burglars broke in and stole a portrait bust by John Ahearn, and squatters made a home for themselves in the few days No Rio was left unattended. One habitue, gravelly-voiced poet Alan Gainville, became the first of our live-in caretakers shortly thereafter.
No Rio's second show was organized by the collective San Francisco Poster Brigade, and was the most straight-forwardly political exhibition the gallery was to see. A packed benefit raised money to print the poster, and the Poster Brigade members jammed the gallery with defiant and inflammatory artworks mailed to them from around the world.
By Susannah Sedgewick, East Village Eye, 1980
Art and politics are wild lovers. They incite scandal, thrive on public flagellation by the establishment, and though they have a s&m relationship, they fight against dominance as a social more. Strange bedfellows as they may seem, art and politics have a long-standing relationship and are now well on their way to a climax in the hotbed of the '80s.
Supporting so controversial a couple is never easy, but there are those who do despite the hassles... The recent show at No Rio is described in their flyer as "the glamorous and controversial International Art Show, a collage of contemporary political art and poetry from around the world."
The show came to New York thanks to Joseph Nechvatal who brought it from San Francisco. The San Francisco Poster Brigade conceived the show as a “May Day Mail-in Art Show," to which revolutionaries from all over the world would mail their posters as a tribute to May 1, 1980, International Workers Day.
The collection is a collective cry of protest from workers all over the world. In the past ten years poster art has burgeoned as a new form of socio-political art. Posters are easy to mail, not prohibitively expensive and accessible to all.
Posters, as well as postcard art, color xerox graphics, lithographs and silkscreens cover the walls from corner to corner of the gallery. There are political postcards from West Germany, woodcuts from Japan, and the assortment of socio-realistic posters whose color separation and art are clearly the work of sensitive artists as well as incensed revolutionaries. The black and white photographs from Northern Ireland by Cameraworks are anguished renderings of the effects of war on humanity.
From the Rock Rebels in Holland the message was "Rock Against Beatrix." The English organization Rock Against Racism (RAR) is also well represented. The rock has been thrown and will continue to roll, gathering momentum and a whole new generation of rebels.
In the winter of 1980, sculptor John Morton organized Murder, Suicide & Junk, the first series of theme exhibitions at the gallery. Despite No Rio's announced open door policy, the theme proposed by the beefy ex-punk rocker from Cleveland made people nervous. Some feared that the junkies who frequented the heroin market half a block away would come into the gallery, while others questioned the political correctness of the theme and the way Morton was staging it. Laissez-faire triumphed, however, and the gallery was soon filled with a variety of artworks.
The opening of the show featured raucous punk rock bands, as visitors walked up the stairs past Anson Seeno's Hansel and Gretel Slept Here, a piece simulating a snowdrift of heroin sprinkled with multi-colored pills and foil packages like the kind sold on the street. If the show had mixed reviews from artists and critics alike, the title alone was an unqualified media success, finding its way into numerous press accounts.
By Kay Larson, Village Voice, Oct. 27-Nov. 4, 1980
"Murder, Suicide, Junk" is the title of the show that John Morton organized for ABC No Rio, a storefront at 156 Rivington that's become headquarters for maybe the first art space in the Lower East Side: ABC No Rio is a descendant of the city-busted Real Estate Show; appropriately, the space they moved into looks like the landlord deserted it a long time ago.
For Morton, art is a bare act of exorcism. He's the one who painted I'M GOING TO KILL YOU on a wall at the Times Square Show. He says he was feeling particularly angry that day; suicide is now on his mind. "I was thinking of killing myself, so that's what I wrote," he says of his piece on the wall at ABC No Rio. "Writing it on the wall helped me to deal with it."
Unofficial scion of the Times Square Show, "Murder, Suicide, Junk" is ever more a protest of the alienated, and, if that's possible, even cruder artwise. Some work was so far out I simply couldn't get the point. Much clearer was Paulette Nenner's grimly white animal skeletons entombed in grotesquely blackened, rotted remnants of fur, coated in clear resin; the piece grabbed me hard. The skeletons are the decayed remnants of the "road-killed" animals (raccoons, etc.) she had displayed on an open hill in the South Bronx last summer, in sympathy with the area's residents, "fellow victims of silent environmental war." And so was a red-and-black photo-silkscreen group portrait by an artist (name unintelligible) who's sworn off junk, because all his friends in the photo have since died. "Self-indulgence is the key to art," says Morton, contre Clement Greenberg. (excerpt)
By Jerry Talmer, New York Post, 1980
It's not your usual art show. Maybe it's the peaceable kingdom. A hen struts across the floor, pecking for grain, then tries to flutter up into a storefront window occupied by three city pigeons and two fat white squabs. Over here are some mice; over there a rat. In yet another corner, Marvin the New Wave Hamster does his stuff. A bored black cat ignores hen, pigeons, squabs, mice, rat and hamster to rub luxuriously against a human knee.
"I see we lost a cockroach during the night," says Christy Rupp, reaching into the cockroach exhibit to dispose of its corpse with a tissue. The rest of the show--Christy Rupp's second annual "Animals Living in Cities" show--is on the walls and tables here at ABC No Rio in the Lower East Side. There are paintings, drawings, sculptures, posters, advertisements, government texts. Contributors range from grown-up artists and scientists and museum people to half a hundred kids from School District 1 under the supervision of Filomena Bruno.
The work ranges from some superb photographs by Martha Cooper, late of the New York Post, to a trunkful of pig footprints from Staten Island by Angela Fremont, to Paulette Nenner's collage of quotes from Ronald Reagan the environmentalist.
Christy Rupp is the 32-year-old sculptor who the summer before last plastered rat posters all around City Hall--just three weeks, as it happens, before the headlines were chattering about a woman attacked by a pack of rats one block from City Hall Park. Out of that came City Wildlife Projects--Christy Rupp, director--and out of that came last year's first annual "Animals Living in Cities" show up at Fashion/Moda--a sort of "museum of art, science, technology, and fantasy"--in the South Bronx.
Christy Rupp isn’t exactly a rebel. She's an idealist. "Though I don't for a minute want people to think that this show is defending rats," she said, "rats should be seen not as filthy little things. Rats are a symptom. Garbage is the cause."
She plucked one of the fat white squabs out of the window of colored silhouettes by artist Anton van Dalen and cradled the bird on her lap. Among her own works in the exhibit are a plaster seagull about to be done to death by a beercan, and some plaster rats.
"Rats are not terrorists," she said. "They are not inherently evil. They're animals like any other animals. They don't come into the world meaning to harm man." Pause. "I mean God created them along with everything else!' Pause. "I mean," she said, sounding quite like the high-school teacher she once was at Dennis, Mass., on the Cape, "I see them as part of the history of ecology, in the whole chain of things. It's simply that they're out of control in the cities"... (excerpt)
By Susannah Sedgewick, East Village Eye, 1980
In an urban situation it may appear hard to learn things about animals because we feel so alienated from them. Other than our relatively domesticated dogs or cats, we have only the "phobic" city animals to consider. Nevertheless, these city animals which we prefer to ignore are all around us, were here before us and most likely will remain long after we are gone. Although we may cringe at the thought of a ratio of ten rats to one city dweller, their abundance is directly related to our proclivity for the ignorant disposal of garbage. Rats are cyclical; when there is nothing for them to eat they stop breeding. As long as we provide them with refuse they will revel.
Our view of the pigeon is similar. Unlike their country cousins, city pigeons are carriers of disease because they scavenge for survival in city filth. Seagulls, scavengers as well, have also discovered the immediate joys of garbage dumps.
According to a recent project by Peter Fend and Christy Rupp, seagulls flocking about the Jamaica Bay garbage dump have interfered with so many airplanes taking off and landing at J.F.K. that the Federal Aviation Agency believes the airport should be closed until the hazard is eliminated.
Nature was the original inspirer of art, and so now it is only fitting that there should arise a unified appeal by artists against the systematic degradation of nature. The group show at ABC No Rio entitled "Animals Living in Cities" has brought together artists whose collective theme involves city animals, their role and their plight in urban society. The show was organized by Christy Rupp, founder of City Wildlife Projects, in an attempt to promote understanding of our cities' ecosystems... (excerpt)
Another theme show, this one organized by abstract artist Harry Spitz, followed close on the heels of the Suicide, Murder & Junk Show, deliberately turning away from negative emphases. Subtitling his how "Emblems for a New Age," Spitz encouraged artists to move in a heraldic direction. While some spirited images were created, it is perhaps a sign of the times that, of all the theme shows, this was the one that presented artists with the most difficulty. The most frequently heard comment: "This is positive?"
by Sally White, 1981
Melee? Wake? Hullabaloo? Wing-Ding? To-Do? Lamentation? Shindig?
What is your reaction? Come to 156 Rivington on January 20, 1981 (the night of the Inaugural) at 8pm when ABC No Rio reacts to the swearing in of Ronald Reagan. Does the whole thing make you want to throw up? Shout with glee? Take your own life? Snicker behind your hand? Are you totally apathetic? Whatever your reaction, you can bet you'll be covered by a program that is as diverse as America itself. With the likes of Diane Torr, Ruth Peyser, Peter Fend and others, ABC No Rio will try to recreate the spirit with which Ronald Reagan was elected in the first place. There will be performances, dance, music and video all geared to parallel your particular reverberation. For a mere S2.00 you can vent anger, laugh your head off, stroke your chin in ponderous wonderment, scream your angst, do whatever you have to do.