Come Closer: Art Around the Bowery 1969-1989 at the New Museum presents ephemera, artwork, films, and performance footage of twenty artists that lived or worked in the Bowery over the course of two decades. The exhibition documents the influence of the neighborhood on artists during a time when the area was notoriously derelict and neglected.
The Bowery, now chic and cool, was once characterized by homelessness, drug use, and its neglect by the city, which led to cheap rent in spacious lofts that attracted artists. A community was built on the social networks of artists living in close proximity; the lack of authority helped foster a space for creativity, freethinking and community to thrive. While a few artists still remain in the area today, many have moved away, displaced by higher rents and increasing development.
The exhibition draws from the museum’s “Bowery Artist Tribute,” an online art historical mapping resource, and Marc Miller’s online archive 98bowery.com, presenting a snapshot of an era that is rapidly coming to an end. But this is not a comprehensive survey. While mid-century masters such as Rothko and Lichtenstein also called the Bowery home, the exhibition focuses on the less-represented roster of artists whose work was engaged with practices like DIY and collectives, punk, self documentation, and unsanctioned public art that interacted with the neighborhood’s topography.
Included in the show is a painting by Curte Hoppe that reproduces an image from an iconic project, Marc Miller and Bettie Ringma’s “Paparazzi Self-Portraits,” where the artists photographed each other with highbrow and punk celebrities of the era. Hoppe’s painting of the photo of Ringma with the Ramones was later signed by each of the Ramones, heightening the perceived celebrity that the paparazzi portraits were intended to give Ringma. Connections to the Ramones are also highlighted with photographic works by Arturo Vega, the artist who created Ramones’ iconic logo.
A video work of Charles Simonds building his miniature clay structures called “dwellings” shows an intimate engagement with the urban landscape. He installed “dwellings” throughout the neighborhood from 1970-1979, inviting city goers to take a closer look at the neighborhood. A photograph of Adam Purple’s earthwork Garden Of Eden evidences the artist cultivating and transforming the character of public space. The guerilla garden was built in an abandoned lot and maintained for eight years before being destroyed by the City in 1986. Also included in the show is work by Keith Haring, an instrumental pioneer of unsanctioned public art during that time.
While the New Museum, resident of the Bowery since 2005, does not take part in the conversation about its role in the newly transformed neighborhood, it inadvertently provokes the viewer to consider the impact of its presence.