One of the Lower East Side’s most storied and significant art exhibits has been resurrected at James Fuentes Gallery, just a few blocks from where a group of guerilla artists broke into a city-owned building and staged The Real Estate Show on New Year’s Eve, 1979.
Thirty-four years before Hanksy went viral by , the group known as Colab (Collaborative Projects Inc.) broke into a vacant storefront on Delancey Street and installed an art show dedicated to Elizabeth Mangum, a black woman who had been shot dead by a police officer as she resisted eviction from her Flatbush apartment.
The intention of the self-styled “short-term occupation,” according to a manifesto reproduced at James Fuentes, was to show solidarity with oppressed people, acknowledge that artists are “compradors” in the revaluation of property and the “whitening” of neighborhoods, and to “focus attention on the way artists get used as pawns by greedy white developers.”
Two days after the show opened, the city took back the building and locked up the art, eventually seizing some of it and destroying the rest. After Colab protested the “Art Held Hostage,” city officials offered the group a storefront at 156 Rivington Street. ABC No Rio opened there in February of 1980 and is still going strong.
The collectively run art and activism center was the most important outcome of The Real Estate Show, argues art historian Alan W. Moore in an essay that appears in a special issue of House Magic [PDF]. Moore also mentions the subsequent Times Square Show, in which members of Colab and others took over a former Times Square massage parlor and landed on the cover of the Voice.
(Fun fact: Ulli Rimkus, owner of Max Fish, was Colab’s treasurer, though according to Moore she disapproved of the Real Estate Show and claimed it was irresponsible.)
The city eventually returned some works from the show, and several are now on display at James Fuentes Gallery (others have been recreated). Moore recalls a painting of gang members (a Bro Rebel and a Black Jester) that was found in Joseph Nechvatal’s squat, an abandoned methadone clinic where the show was planned; Coleen Fitzgibbon’s “Landlord Extortion”; “Landlords Do Not Provide Adequate Services” by Robin Winters (“copied from an anonymous jeremiad against landlords we had seen posted on the street”); and Robert Goldman (aka Bobby G)’s pile of cigarette packs collected over the course of weeks (his point: “the money Lower East Siders spent on cigarettes could go toward community renewal”).
That last installation has come back to life, at James Fuentes, as “Dead Packs Worldwide,” which calls for the collection of a million empty cigarette packs.
Click through our slideshow to see those works and others; or better yet, check out the exhibition for yourself at James Fuentes Gallery at 55 Delancey Street, near Eldridge through April 27 (the gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.). There will be related exhibits at ABC No Rio (April 9 to May 8) and Cuchifritos Gallery (April 19 to May 18).