original photo: Lisa Kahane
“Inherent Vice: Contagion and the Archive in The Times Square Show.” e-misférica: Performance and Politics in the Americas 6, no. 1.
A 2009 article based on felicitous research in the NYU archives and reflecting my broader research interests in aesthetics, politics, space, and excess.
Times Square, June 1980. A diverse collective of artists invade a former massage parlor in the most notorious neighborhood in New York City. Within its grimy, crumbling walls, hundreds of paintings, sculptures, Xeroxes, drawings, graffiti, and performances rub up against each other, losing individual definition to the point where it becomes difficult to tell where one piece begins and another ends. As an event, The Times Square Show reconfigured New York’s artistic landscape, defining the aesthetic of the following decade. Yet this essay examines how the show also operated as an archive of artifacts and affects that commemorated the chaos of Times Square – the productive, heady, unstable, interclass and intercultural mishmash that was then facing extinction by redevelopment. Three specific works, pieces by Christy Rupp, John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres, and Jack Smith, unveil how the show revolutionized the art world by embracing the creative potential of contagion and decay.