The Artists Who Defined the East Village’s Avant-Garde Scene

For a short time in the early ’80s, the Manhattan neighborhood was the epicenter of experimental art. Jeff Koons, Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton, Joan Wallace and Barbara Bloom remember the moment. By 1981 in New York City, the contemporary art scene was a booming business, with SoHo as its epicenter. Dealers like Leo Castelli, Ileana Sonnabend and Mary Boone championed artists such as David Salle and Julian Schnabel, whom critics labeled Neo-Expressionists, and whose style appealed to a growing art market willing to pay large sums of money for young painters. But just a few blocks and a world away — in the East Village — a smaller but no less important community of galleries was emerging as well, a kind of conceptual and anti-commercial satellite orbiting the art world’s mainstream. Last fall, T gathered some of these artists to discuss the East Village and its influence: Ashley Bickerton, 58, who moved to New York in 1982 and now lives in Bali, whose work includes assemblages made of found objects and corporate logos; Barbara Bloom, 67, a New York-based conceptual photographer and installation artist who lived in Berlin for much of the ’80s but was a fixture in the East Village galleries, unsparingly documenting American greed and shallowness; Peter Halley, 64, a born-and-raised New Yorker, abstract painter and co-founder of the influential Index Magazine; Jeff Koons, 63, who moved to New York in 1977 and whose use of banal objects like vacuum cleaners and basketballs later made him, for many, an emblem of the avarice his generation had started out critiquing; and Joan Wallace, 58, who came to New York in 1981 and, in those years, collaborated with her artistic partner Geralyn Donohue on monochrome paintings that also included found commercial objects such as rearview mirrors. The Artists Who Defined the East Village’s Avant-Garde Scene

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