September 5 - September 30, 2017
18 Wooster Street
A year after the passing of Alan Vega, who I first knew as Alan Suicide, we will present Dream Baby Dream, a memorial exhibition to commemorate Alan’s life and work. The exhibition has two components: video projections of historic performances by Suicide, and a selection of Alan’s sculpture and works on paper from the 1960s to his last works in 2016. We will also feature interviews with Alan, along with videos documenting his artwork. The following tribute is adapted from a text I wrote for Kaleidoscope Magazine after Alan’s death:
One of my formative artistic experiences was an encounter with the work of Alan Suicide at the O.K. Harris gallery in 1975. The impact began with the black press-type sign with the artist’s name on the entrance wall. Instead of the meticulously aligned letters that had become standard in every SoHo gallery, the name Alan Suicide was half scratched out in an early manifestation of punk attitude. It was a simple gesture, but shocking in its disruption of the expected protocol. Stepping into the gallery, I was confronted by an assemblage of discarded TV picture tubes, Christmas lights, broken radios, and various electronic debris dragged in from the street. Dangling wires were plugged in, activating the lights and popping tubes. The structures were as anti-form as possible, but surprisingly dense. They fused Punk, Pop and Pollock.
Another one of my formative experiences was seeing Alan and Marty Rev’s band Suicide perform at Max’s Kansas City in the spring of 1976. Half of the audience seemed to embrace Alan’s confrontational performance; the other half was infuriated. Alan described his approach in a 2002 Village Voice interview with Simon Reynolds: “Back then, people went to shows to forget their everyday life for a few hours. With Suicide, they came off the street and I gave them the street right back.” Alan’s unhinged performance was riveting, but what really astonished me was what happened when Alan and his band mate Marty walked off the stage. Marty’s noise box was still sounding. The music kept playing without anyone playing it. Those early Suicide concerts changed the concept of musical performance, influencing the development of electro pop and electronic dance music.
Alan Vega, a.k.a. Alan Suicide, died at the age of 78 on July 16th, 2016. Friends who I spoke with about his death were incredulous to learn that he was 78. He always maintained the stance and the style of someone who was in his twenties. He was one of the inventors of the Punk aesthetic in art and music, and in 1970, may have been the first to describe his sound as punk. His first Suicide show, at the Project of Living Artists on 729 Broadway was advertised as “Punk Music by Suicide.” Punk describes only one part of Suicide’s artistic and musical direction, however. With his black beret and his hipster lingo, and his immersion into assemblage, Alan also created his own extension of Beat culture. His music also drew deeply on rockabilly and on the Doo-Wop that he would have heard on the Brooklyn street corners when he was a teenager in the 1950s. In his way he was also a Pop artist.
I enthusiastically followed all the new bands emerging at CBGB and Max’s during the mid 1970s, but for me Suicide was the most radical and the closest in its alignment with concurrent developments in visual art. My friend the photographer Marcia Resnick arranged for us to meet Alan for drinks at Max’s a few weeks after his astonishing performance. Two Suicide fans from New Jersey also showed up, delighting Alan with their home made white-on-black Suicide T-shirts. I remember asking Alan about his favorite artists. Making sure that his young fans could not hear him, he whispered to me, “I like Jackson Pollock.” At the time, I thought of Pollock as a monument from my art history courses, not as a direct influence on a punk rocker. Alan’s admission about one of his primary aesthetic sources was a breakthrough insight for me, deepening my understanding of how radical art remains radical. It also helped me to understand the way innovations in one artistic medium such as painting, can extend into other media such as music. Alan helped me to see the work of Pollock as alive, rather than ossified art history, continuing to inspire a new approach to artistic form.
Alan’s art, music and insights still resonated with me twenty-five years later, around 2001, when I began hearing some of my young artist friends talk about their interest in Suicide. A whole contingent of artists connected to my projects had gone to see a Suicide New Year’s Eve performance. I decided to try to re-connect with Alan and find out if he might consider an exhibition of his radical sculpture from the 1970s. Alan was not easy to contact. Finally, I was able to speak with his manager, Liz Lamere, who I eventually found out was also his wife. We arranged to meet in Alan’s Financial District loft apartment, which he enjoyed for its remoteness from the commercialization of the former artist neighborhoods. “I have been waiting twenty-five years for you to follow up,” he admonished me as he greeted me at the door. He had remembered my enthusiasm for his work from our conversation at Max’s in 1976.
Alan agreed to retrieve and re-construct some of his light and electronic parts sculptures from the 1970s and we presented an exhibition entitled Collision Drive, named after his second solo album, in January 2002. Alan and Marty also put on a brilliant Suicide performance during the exhibition, drawing long time fans from the ‘70s and ‘80s as well as enthusiasts from the new generation. It was great to see Alan’s work embraced by young artists.
Several years after Collision Drive, Alan was Dan Colen’s and Dash Snow’s first choice to perform inside their notorious sculptural environment, The Nest. Alan went all out, performing knee deep in the paper from shredded phone books, backed by A.R.E. Weapons.
Alan was both of his time and way ahead of his time. Alan and Marty’s seminal debut album, Suicide, from 1977 was too radical to achieve commercial success when it was released, but is now listed by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 most influential albums of all time. Alan’s sculpture is not yet in the collections of the major contemporary art museums, but one of my missions is to see his sculptural work also achieve the public recognition that it deserves.
Alan was a pioneer in the blurring of boundaries between media. His aesthetic approach encompassed sculpture, music, poetry and art performance. His work created an original, uniquely American, fusion of Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Assemblage, Minimalism and anti-form. All of his work was literally charged with electricity. Modernism was pushed into a combustible clash with pop culture. Alan was an anti-pop star and an anti-artist. He was both a proponent and a progenitor of the radical strain in American art.
-- Jeffrey Deitch
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