Word that Clayton Patterson was leaving the Lower East Side for Austria really rattled those who considered him the neighborhood’s “last bohemian,” as the Times headline dubbed him. Could the man who documented the Tompkins Square Park riots and the underground scenes of the ’80s and ’90s East Village, founded a gallery of “outlaw art,” and edited epic histories of LES radicalism, filmmaking and Jewish culture really be leaving the hood whose denizens he’s photographed religiously? We, for one, had to find out.
So, Wednesday night, we took our own cameras to a farewell show held for Patterson and his longtime partner Elsa Rensaa at Galerie Au Bon Punk in the Meatpacking District. Featuring Patterson’s photos, prints, hats, and the camera made famous by the documentary Captured, “The $16 Dollar Burger Show,” a nod to the changing neighborhood organized by members of the rock band Dameht, was fittingly held in the old home of an overpriced burger joint.
After the show (our footage of which can be found above), Patterson spoke to us about the future of downtown Manhattan and what, if any, roll he’ll play in it.
The $16 hamburgers were fantastic [laughs]. No, the show was great. There were 200 people who didn’t get in. I left the show totally up to the band, had nothing to do with it whatsoever. I didn’t get involved in any with the opening, or any of it. I depended on them to do the whole thing.
You know, if all those little seeds [of creativity] got passed between Brooklyn and downtown, with the Internet, then it might be possible to have a full art community in New York, which would be the first time. The art world has always been divided between uptown and downtown. [Together] it’s a whole, higher and different level. That could be part of the mixture. With all of New York, then you got much more power and possibilities.
I would like to do both [Austria and New York]. I can’t [keep running the gallery the same way], because Elsa and I are a two-person team. We’ve had a complicated life. We stretched ourselves beyond who we are. She is one part and I am the other. In doing that, the two parts were necessary to make the one. Her health is not that great right now. I can’t do it on my own. I just cannot do it. I don’t want the boat to sink. She’s almost 70, I’m 65, shit changes.
Ideally, in my head, it’s making something bigger rather than smaller, going between Austria and New York. I was the first person hooking up tattoo artists and sideshow people [in Austria] in 1995, I’ve been dealing talent to there since 1995. I would try to think of New York as a whole for the first time, and then I would try to think of combining that with Austria and moving things back and forth. It’d be like Paris, early in the century, going back and forth between Paris and New York. There is so much talent in that country. Maybe do art over here, show it over there.
There are aspects to me where it’s absolutely impossible for me to be here. I just can’t do it on my own. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be alternatives.
That location of the [$16 Burger] show — it had the Chinese energy thing, feng shui, like a new contemporary society. It was a better location than the White House. Like the birth going into the Industrial Revolution.
On that location you have the Apple store, which is modern technology, and Chelsea Market, and then you have Google. Google is like the new kid on all the block, and on the other side you have tradition, like your steakhouses. You have this location of high super energy right there. Google projects itself right now as a youth, with opportunity, with new ideas, and accessibility, and welcome to the public. Is this all corporate fantasy, like Marlboro, selling the idea that it’s healthy for you? Or not?
John Varvatos came to the Lower East Side and took over the CBGB space. He did all these free concerts, and gave back to the community, hosted shows with Axl Rose, gave out free liquor. So he actually gave something back. It was going to change no matter what. So better to have somebody who gives something back than somebody who just takes.
There’s a war over here with Soho House. They’re gonna come in, said they would promise toward landmarking, and that they would be good neighbors toward doing good things. Are they just full of shit or not?
So far Varvatos is the only one that gave back. All the rest of them, they say it’s gonna be good food, gonna be cheap, and all the sudden it’s not a restaurant it’s just a bar and fuck you.
So part of the thing now is about Google. Did they integrate with the neighborhood or is it just an illusion?
I believe that Bloomberg and all these people have no concept of the brain drain that they’re doing to this country. Genius is attached to cheap rent and an inexpensive lifestyle. Within politics, every politician that came out of New York, Giuliani and Koch, they didn’t come out of the upper middle class.
It’s easy to play this game about bohemians and the rest of it. But it’s really about everybody. It’s not just artists, it’s everybody, and [cheap living] is where genius came from.
I hope there’s a generation that rises up from these ashes and becomes the New York art scene. I think it would be a stronger and more positive thing. New York could become viable again. It has to be a place for new ideas and adventures.
I don’t know where in the future I’ll be. The most ideal will be to do both Austria and New York. But life has its own way of interfering. Keep Hope Alive.
Video by Taji Ameen