The Rise of the East Village

Downtown New York had changed considerably in the year and a half that Bettie Ringma and I lived in Amsterdam.  The rise of a new generation of musicians and artists that began before we left in 1979 was now much more evident as many of these artists began to gain mainstream attention. Back at 98 Bowery we scrambled to catch up with the quickly evolving scene. 

One of the first exhibitions we attended after our return to New York was the now historic "Times Square Show," organized by the artist group Collaborative Projects Inc. (COLAB).  We had missed COLAB's previous "Real Estate Show," but became involved with another COLAB venture, ABC No Rio, a new alternative space on the Lower East Side.  No Rio emphasized socially engaged art and was the accidental by-product of the "Real Estate Show," an exhibition held illegally in a squatted building. The gallery was modeled after another COLAB-affiliated space, Fashion Moda, which was located in the South Bronx, one of the city’s most notorious slums. Fashion Moda had a major impact in the 1980s serving as a bridge between the downtown art scene and the emerging world of graffiti and Hip Hop.

In the late 70's the club scene had centered on CBGB and Max’s Kansas City.  Now there was the Mudd Club, Club 57, Area, and a host of other venues that not only featured music but also included performance art, fashion shows, Independent film, and art exhibitions. In the 80s the art scene was revitalized with a new gallery district in the East Village and Lower East Side, where the Fun Gallery, Gracie Mansion and Civilian Warfare opened exhibition spaces. The rising downtown artists included Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jenny Holzer, Robert Mapplethorpe, David Wojnarowicz and Kiki Smith. This explosion of downtown culture was accompanied by boutiques, bars and restaurants and new independent publications like the East Village EyeDetails and Paper.

The art ephemera below has been selected to capture the spirit of the East Village in the early 80’s. All the cards come from Gallery 98, an offshoot of 98 Bowery which specializes in art ephemera from the 1970s and 80s.