Nostalgic New York – 93 Til Infinity at Tribes
I have always lusted for old New York. As a 15-year-old suburban teen, I used to watch Party Monster, Kids, Rent, and Style Wars and want nothing more than to be a part of that dangerous, dirty, and yet completely creative and glamorous scene that was New York. I wanted the violence, drugs, and culture, and although New York still possesses an energy that is unique, I got Madison Square Garden and Starbucks.
On 3rd Street between Avenue C and D (once referred to as being between “crime” and “death”), A Gathering of the Tribes’ exhibit “93 til Infinity” catapulted its viewers back into the early 90s. The apartment-turned-gallery has been bombed/painted/tagged with bright colors smothering any remnants of the standard gallery white walls.
Although street art and graffiti have been intellectualized and validated through gargantuan price tags and museum shows, this is not the Keith Haring exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. This isn’t even Seven Points in Queens.
The colorful words are simple: it is graffiti. It is the writing I saw etched into the window of my school bus as a kid. But graffiti in its simplest form is not bland or to be brushed over. It is rich in history and technique. Being that late 80s/early 90s New York City is arguably the epicenter of graffiti, I was pleased that the exhibit stuck with graffiti, and that the closest thing to Banksy-style street art that I saw was a Beavis and Butthead character.
Photographs by legendary Lower East Side documenter Clayton Patterson hung from the graffiti-laden walls in this exhibit, which closed last Thursday evening. These photographs are intriguing for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most noteworthy is Patterson’s ability to capture character. The portraits have a sense of intimacy that not all photographers are capable of creating.
Another interesting point which the portraits raise is the recycling of trends and instant nostalgia of our Facebook-loving-Instagram-photo-taking culture. The attire and details do date them (if the cars don’t give away that these photographs are from a time past, the MC Hammer Pants will), but there is something familiar about it all. The trends from this era have almost come full circle. 1993 was not all that long ago, but our sense of time seems to be warped with all of our instant needs and instant gratification.
Perhaps it is because I am looking for it, but nostalgia seems to be a prevalent theme in the arts currently. I recently saw Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris. Without commenting on the film’s merits, it also thematically revolved around nostalgia for an era before the present. Protagonist Gil (Owen Wilson) lusts for Paris in the 1920s: the era of Hemingway, Picasso, and Fitzgerald. But as the movie’s time-traveling sequences reveal, life is life. Although a certain time period may have more memory or be seen in hindsight as an era of prolific creativity, as Gil puts it “soon you’ll start imagining another time was really the golden time. That’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life’s a little unsatisfying.”
This statement sums up exactly why we glorify the recent past of New York. Yes, there was less police control, and more violence, and more spray paint, but someday people will envy our era, and we will relish them with our antidotes about how we were busy day dreaming about the era before us.
Perhaps instead of wallowing in my nostalgia for 1993, I should focus on today. There are many great things about the current era. For one, we can comfortably sit on toilet seats without the petrifying fear that it might give us AIDS.
I probably sound like I am trying to convince myself, and that might be true. But old New York’s shadow still looms around New York, in the form of gallery exhibits such as this and the graffiti on construction scaffolding. So, if I am going to relish in the glorification of the past, at least I live in a good city to do it.
In a lawless spirit, I leave you with a quote from the Peter Pan Posse themselves, taken from Mint & Serf’s webpage:
Peter Pan Posse is more than a gang: it’s a mental attitude. We are born and bred New Yorkers who preserve the outlaw lifestyle – a lifestyle that chose us. We have mastered the art of surviving city streets. We are the artists you admire. We are the drug dealers with the least cut. We throw the parties where you make the worst mistakes. We make the music you do drugs to. We are the kids you talk shit about. We don’t sneak into parties — we sneak outta them. We don’t pay for bottles we throw them. We get paid to play. We can’t grow up: its a full-time job not giving a fuck.”
–Writeup and photos by Megan Youngblood