Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Put the Past on Display-No Matter Who's Offended

"Please be advised--sexually explicit images." A small black-and-white sign warns viewers of what they are about to see. This does not explain the half of it.

The sign is hung at the entrance of "Downtown Pix: Mining the Fales Archives 1961-1991," an exhibit at the Grey Art Gallery, NYU's fine arts museum. It includes over 300 pieces ranging from photographs of men in drag to videos of people in bathing suits playing with poultry. Taken out of their archival context in the Fales Library, these pieces make for a memorable collection.

On Thursday, March 25, a day before the exhibit's closing, Marvin Taylor, director of the Fales Library, spoke to a class of NYU journalism students about the experience of chronicling and displaying the nation's leading collection of Downtown New York art of the '70s and '80s.

"Downtown art is not for a weak stomach," said Taylor, a bearded man with pierced ears and a pair of aviators perched on his head.

The Downtown Collection that Taylor has preserved includes a huge assortment of photographs featuring masturbation, dead bodies and homo-erotica.

Taylor, 48, first became interested in the Manhattan’s Downtown scene while he was a Quaker teenager growing up in tiny Cottage Gove, IN (population: 109). He said that he was always naturally rebellious – a quality that might prove helpful in protecting the nation’s foremost collection of equally rebellious art.

Despite its controversial content, Taylor deems the creations that emerged from this era essential to the future of downtown art. "If it doesn't offend someone, it's not doing its job," he said with a smile.

However, not everyone shared his beliefs. At the time it was created, the work was looked down on by some. "It was devalued as a bunch of punk rock kids making things that wouldn't sell," Taylor said. A gay punk himself, Taylor was aware of what was happening during that era. 

Years later, he began collecting the memorabilia and art work that embodied that genre. On deciding what to collect for his archives Taylor said, "I knew about what had happened in New York in the 70s and 80s and I thought...'Well, duh.'" The 15-year-old collection now includes works by such artistic visionaries as Robert Mapplethorpe, Jimmy De Sana and Andy Warhol.

Although art-seekers were advised by a black and white sign that "explicit images" lay ahead, this did not stop the students trailing in and out of the museum from experiencing this exhibit.

photos of works and Marvin Taylor by me :-)

1 comment: