Artists from all eras of ABC No Rio’s radical history, including some who founded the legendary Lower East Side squat in 1980, have turned the dilapidated tenement into a top-to-bottom exhibition space before it’s demolished and replaced by a new eco-friendly building.
On the ground floor of 156 Rivington Street, “The Past Will Be Present” is made up of photographs of the venue and portraits of its volunteers, taken mostly by younger artists. On the second to fourth floors as well as in the backyard of the narrow structure, “InFinite Futures” consists of installations and performances by artists who have a history with ABC No Rio.
“The idea for the exhibition is that you envision what the ABC No Rio will be in 5, 10, 50, 500 years,” said Kevin Caplicki, an artist with the justseeds collective. He and Alexander Dwinell have plastered the black walls of what used to be the booking office with two layers of flyers.
The first consists of black-and-white advertisements for past events at ABC No Rio. There’s a certain nostalgia and sentimentality tied to these flyers, says Caplicki. He had his first encounters with DIY culture and radical politics at ABC No Rio’s Saturday Hardcore/Punk Matinees, while Dwinell played in a band and designed flyers for his shows in the 1990s. The second layer is made up of flyers for imagined future shows: reunions of beloved punk acts, benefits for victims of police violence and for Martian rights, a “Communism is Now” event, and much more. Just like punk in general, “it’s pretty utopic in its dystopia,” Dwinell explained.
The future is also clearly dystopian for Douglas Landau and board member Julie Hair, who has been around since she played music at the venue in the ‘80s. Their fourth-floor installation allows you to look out of ABC No Rio’s windows in the year 2036. Hundreds of pairs of eyes as well as “noise and spectacle” welcome you to surveillance society— and give you the creeps.
The show also contains more optimistic pieces. Artists Barrie Cline and Paul Vance created a surrealistic installation wherein mixed recycled materials, strictly in white, emerge from the pores of the building and represent bottom-up growth, as Cline described it.
Even though the feel and smell of the new building might be very different, she is positive that the ethos of the place will remain. “No matter what, it will come through the walls. No matter what, there will be a spirit of resistance,” Cline said.
In the meantime, the center’s zine library, archive, and office space have already found refuge at Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center. Steven Englander, the center’s director, says they are still looking for spaces to relocate their print shop and darkroom. Though ABC No Rio won’t have its own building for at least two years, “ABC No Rio In Exile” will organize concerts and art exhibitions in DIY locations all over the city. On July 9, for instance, three post-hardcore bands (two from Jersey, one from Florida) will do an afternoon show at Silent Barn. The last matinee at the current space will take place June 25, with a reunion of ’90s grindcore band Disassociate. The final installment of the COMA series of experimental and improvisational music is set for June 26.
As you wander through the last art show, breathe in some of that damp air in the concert hall for the last time (the Times reported last month that demolition could happen before fall). Or hang out under the tree, which has an installation dedicated to it. Make sure to talk to some of the artists and volunteers who have been running the place for 36 years.
“It actually isn’t the building,” said Englander, “it’s the people who do stuff in the building that make the place what it is.”
“InFinite Futures” + “The Past Will Be Present” at ABC No Rio, 156 Rivington St., Lower East Side, runs through June 24; open Sunday from 1-5pm and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 4-8pm.