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
By Alan Moore and Marc Miller
Over the three years during which this catalogue has been in production, help has come from numerous quarters. The editors thank first of all the artists who worked at and ran No Rio without whom the gallery, and of course this book, would not have been---the mainstays, Bobby G, Rebecca Howland, and Christy Rupp; Peter Cramer and Jack Waters, Carl George and Kembra Pfahler. Next we thank the writers who share their reflections in these pages, and the publications (credited in headlines) which allowed us to reprint much of the work here. The photographers who documented these events and objects shared their work generously, particularly Martha Cooper, Albert DiMartino, Lisa Kahane, Gregory Lehmann, Ten Slotkin and Tom Warren.
In the production of the book, primary acknowledgement goes to Keith Christensen who designed it. For photostats we are indebted to Lannes Kenfield; thanks for help on the type to Ira Ungar, Celeste-Monique Lindsey, and Talbot Typographers. Printed by Wickersham Printing Co., Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Special thanks to Ann Messner for production assistance, Jody Culkin for transferring innumerable slides, and Myrna Zimmerman for advice and encouragement. Encouragement and assistance too came from Josh Gosciak, Peter Fend, Julia Allard, Walter Robinson, Franz Vila, Barbara Moore, Bettie Ringma, Seton Smith, Kiki Smith, Joseph Nechvatal, Jim Moisan, Jolie Stahl, and many others; we are grateful to them all.
Special thanks to the long-suffering staff of the Cultural Council Foundation, which manages our money.
This publication is made possible with funds from Collaborative Projects, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, Consolidated Edison, and private donations. Thanks are also due to our advertisers.
Published by ABC No Rio with Collaborative Projects
156 Rivington Street, New York City, New York 10002
Copyright © 1985, ABC No Rio
By Lucy Lippard
No river, no money, so what else is new? This is Loisaida, home of high spirits, heavy drugs, low income, heavy art. ABC No Rio has, for better and sometimes for worse, maintained its pre-Eastside Boom scruffiness. In some ways it is an anachronism today, when even the real deep guts of the Lower East Side are up for East Villification. Still, Rivington Street hangs in, hangs out, and so far, a walk east to No Rio includes no wood-chrome-plants-and-glass luncheries.
...Coming from where I do (out in left field), I haven't always felt No Rio has lived up to its early promise. But it has held out for values most artists seem to be forgetting, and in doing so has made some pretty important contributions to the gradual validation of an art that isn't afraid of social change or so-called mass culture.
Trying to work with "the community" (often a euphemism for a neighborhood whose communities are being rent asunder by all kinds of internal and external catastrophes), crossing cultural and racial lines whenever possible, the No Rio artists have tried to do something the artworld can't even imagine-for all its talk of Breakthroughs and Boundary Crossings. None of these things happen in the hothouse atmosphere further west and north, and there's at least a chance they will happen on Rivington Street.
...In 1979-80, a lot of the Colab-type work (the stuff that's been watered down to be shown in the classiest glass-doored East Village showcases) looked scary to me. Not because of its orgiastic iconoclasm and fuck-youism, but because it seemed so much part of the violence it depicted and claimed sometimes to deplore. Politics has all too often been a buzzword among middle-class artists playing at alienation, covering up their own fears with others' realities. ("Get Wrecked, Get Political," said an early No Rio street poster, as though politics were just another high.) I was afraid then that the whole idea of a socially conscious art would just fade into the roachwork under a lamination of hype, a shriek of chic.
Instead, thanks to some of the No Rio stalwarts, among others, a lot of artists have begun to take for granted that you can integrate your art and your politics without screwing up either one. And the more granted it becomes, the better the politics and the better the art becomes.
All in all, this is a wonderful book. It's almost more fun to browse through than some of the original shows (where competition from the proudly deteriorating context can overwhelm the contents). But you shouldn't be allowed the pleasure of browsing through the book until you've been to ABC No Rio and seen for yourself. You have to walk there too, past the bodegas and druggies and playground and local lawyers, hair-dressers, discount clothing stores. You have to read the Spanglish signs and hear the Salsa music and smell the cuchifritos and watch occasional pink-haired persons from New Jersey make themselves at home.
If you're lucky, the gallery will be open, and the garden out back will be graced with a Howland sculpture, and some neighborhood kids will stand around and look at you looking at the art, and you too will be moved to make something.
- February, 1985
By Leonard Abrams, Publisher, East Village Eye
Of the various artist-run public projects initiated in New York this decade, ABC No Rio might be eligible for the prize for "most artist-run." Such an honor is not known to be a surefire recipe for success. But the people who participated in the Real Estate Show, the illegal occupancy of an empty city-owned building which spawned ABC No Rio on the eve of this decade, and those who have contributed since, have largely shared the point of view that an artist's role is to do what is necessary.
In 1979, only two years after the New York real estate market had hit bottom, it had become apparent that events, if not people, were conspiring to make the housing situation in New York City as treacherous in an "improving" business climate as it had been during the city's financial crisis. It was as though the Koch administration, fresh from the victory of convincing the citizens to pay its creditors, realized that people were frightened enough to agree to just about anything the financial powers wanted, if done in the name of saving the city from bankruptcy. Unfortunately, what they wanted seemed to include the city itself.
...Not everyone bought that line. A group of artists decided on a modest but, by our society's standards, radical course of action: to break into an empty city-owned building and put on a show that examined and challenged commonly held assumptions about ownership, property and the way we treat each other as people. The city government had little trouble reasserting its authority over 123 Delancey Street and, when it was reoccupied, re-evicting the usurpers and confiscating the exhibits, leaving the building properly empty...
The city and the artists reached a compromise, in the form of an indefinite lease on the storefront and basement of 156 Rivington Street. To do what? That wasn't specified. The question immediately arose: was this a victory or a bone? or worse, was this an insidious attempt by the city to implicate the artists in a planned deliverance of that neighborhood to those who would evict the poorer tenants in favor of better-heeled-and lighter-skinned-newcomers?
Fortunately, the newly constituted membership of No Rio was not to be paralyzed by self doubt or social squeamishness. Instead, there followed three-and-a-half years of installations, performances and events covering a grab bag of topics, but in which, retrospectively, can be found a cohesiveness of purpose. Simply stated, it was to use the power of creative inspiration (perhaps the only thing there was plenty of at No Rio) and education to improve the outlook of people in general, as well as those whom fortune had landed in this corner of Manhattan.
What follows in this book is a cornucopia of documentation and essays from this period. No Rio is as busy now as ever, administered by a younger crop of artists and sporting a few improvements in plumbing and heating. It's still a place that encourages everyone's participation; art/noise bands still play to audiences of enthusiastic Anglos and bemused (if not supercilious) Hispanics. And shows still happen at No Rio that few other places would handle...
In an age where youngsters seem grimly eager to join old businessmen in attaining the American dream no matter who has to be sidestepped or stepped on, places like No Rio serve to remind us, if we care to listen, that all of us are impoverished when some of us are, as all of us are enriched when we talk to each other.
- October, 1984