Yes, it was amazing. The Capital of The World, bankrupt, with vast sections of the city abandoned, wracked by murders, gang warfare, cops on the take, and burning buildings – urban ruins occupied by performance artists, graffiti masters, dance companies… there was an Italian conceptual artist who rode his bike through the deserted streets of SoHo twirling burning hula hoops (one on each arm) at midnight. Whole neighborhoods were given over to sex clubs, each one dedicated to some particular fetish—an underground network of “hardware store by day/S&M performance space by night” operations. Leather boys with cock rings on Christopher Street passing the middle school kids on their way to homeroom before the first class of the day.
It was not unusual to see completely naked people walking around day or night. Some completely mad. Others, hookers plying their trade to riders cruising in top-down convertibles with Jersey plates, pulled over to the side at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel, before they slouched home to the lawn, mom and the kids sequestered in the suburbs. You could see the smoke from the buildings burning in the Bronx.
Lower East Side junkies in suits hogging diner bathrooms, shooting-up before the first bell, the waitress pounding on the door, yelling “get the fuck outta there, asshole” while balancing your 90-cents coffee, ham, toast, and eggs breakfast order on her arm. Yeah, the thirty-something Wall Street guys, crawling out of the one sledge-hammer smashed-through hole in the block-long strip of shooting galleries—those abandoned buildings, all the doors and windows sealed-up with concrete block. And the rag-covered dead-enders at three o'clock in the afternoon, pants at their knees among acres of rubble where buildings once stood, shooting smack into their dicks on the sidewalk, ass-out, pinching out their flesh, searching furtively for that last vein. And we partied in the cellars of the ruins, making music, murals, and dance while the displacements of savage capitalism flamed-out all around us.
The daily haiku covers
Of the New York Post.
I spent long days working in the heart of SoHo, the artist district, saved from the Robert Moses-mandated wrecking ball by a scruffy bunch of renegades working with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. My day job was with the amazing art and architecture collective, SITE, where I apprenticed with James Wines and his band of radical writers, publishers, and designers. I also worked with Alice Aycock, Alan Sonfist, and Lynda Benglis, among others. Nights were Max’s Kansas City, CBGBs, and the Mud Club, with occasional outings to the pop-up art/dance/music/venues Tunnel, Limelight, Palladium, Pravda, Danceteria... the list goes on. The mash-up of art, work, and play, this either cast with revolutionary ardor against the last gasps of tired modernism or subversively layered into it with knowing disruptive glee. That place, a few square blocks, was linked to similar movements all over the world. But NYC was the epicenter, the powerful magnetic force that drew the rebels and freaks into the vortex where powerful new ideas and intellectually risky strategies were the currency of the realm. And the cultural foundations for current-day hispters, loft-live-work spaces, tee-shirt n’ jeans CEOs, the foodie movement, radical environmentalism, post-Modernism, Deconstruction—what we think of as much of the fabric of our lives today—were all birthing at the same time.
Into this foray, I tossed my Grid House project among others. “What is a façade?” it asked. Image or structure? Can the banal be enlivened with a change of angle; can the viewer construct and reconstruct their own experience? Can architecture be paint? As my friend the late, great Tom Wolfe noted in his dedication to From Bauhaus to Our House:
For Michael McDonough,
who knows where all the acute angles
are hidden in the grid.