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Poster designed
by the Art Workers
commemorating the
My Lai Massacre.
Jon Hendricks

Revolutionary broadside
with image of
Malcolm X, c.1968.
Michael Rossman
and AOUON Archive

Poster promoting the
Black Panther Party
newspaper, c. 1968.
Designed by
Emory Douglass

Huey P. Newton, 1968
Black Panther Party
Minister of Defense.
Roz Payne Archie

Georgia Straight, 1970
Kent State Issue.

Prior to the killings
of four people in an
antiwar demonstration
at Kent State, Spiro
Agnew had called
student protestors

Chicago Seed, 1968

Guerilla: Free Newspaper
of the Streets,
Distributed at the
Republican National
Convention in Chicago

Poster expressing
support for Angela Davis,
c.1970. Designed by
artist Trina Robbins

Mike Glier
Clubs of Virtue, 1980

Tim Rollins + K.O.S.
Painted Bricks, 1980

alternative art 
and politics

from berkeley to the lower east side

by Alan Moore

"Counterculture: Alternative Information 

from the Underground Press to the Internet, 

1965-1995" at Exit Art, New York City.

"Cultural Economies: Histories from the 

Alternative Arts Movement, NYC" at the 

Drawing Center, New York City.

These two complementary exhibitions, twins 

in their origin, both present the culture 

and politics of the American underground of 

the last 30 years. "Counterculture," 

organized by independent critic and editor 

Brian Wallis with Exit Art curator Melissa 

Rachleff, is basically a vast survey of 

zines and posters, from the underground 

newspapers of the 1960s to the AIDS 

awareness/fightback campaigns of the '90s. 

"Cultural Economies," curated by Group 

Material's Julie Ault, is an art exhibition 

that uses posters, flyers and other printed 

promotional material to context 

photography, sculpture and painting. These 

two exhibitions argue for a revision of the 

art history and cultural studies of the 

periods they survey. Together they write a 

different kind of high and low, siting the 

person of the artist and the dynamics of 

each art movement within a richer socius--

that is, within an actual community of 


"Counterculture" is the bigger of the two 

shows, and, depending on your politics, the 

more thrilling or the scarier. This is 

newsstand poetry and the venerable, 

inflammatory rhetoric of the broadside. 

From the explosion of national underground 

press in the '60s, through the head-banging 

nihilist punk 'zines of the '70s, to the 

corrosively ironic AIDS consciousness 

campaigns of the '80s and '90s--the surface 

of this canvas is content, and it speaks 

itself best:

From the underground press: "Heil Columbia" 

from Rat (1968);Rising Up Angry; "Manson 

declares Nixon Guilty" in the East Village 

Other;Black Mask; "Fuck for peace," in 

Kaliflower; "War is over if you want it"; 

"Hey kids! Do it!";Off Our Backs. From gay 

liberation:Hissy Fit and Homocore. From 

itself:Punk and Slash,Sniffin' Glue, and 

current inheritors like Profane Existence 

-- "Same shit, different pile" (1992) -- 

and "Festival of plagiarism."At home in 

NYC,World War 3, "Your house is mine," and 

"We will not rest in peace -- ACT-UP."

As a historian, I felt exhilarated by this 

blast of primary materials from a home-

grown popular culture; the exhibition is 

like a library splayed out and blowing in 

the wind. In the first of the two large 

rooms, which is given over entirely to the 

'60s, we see the handwriting of the 

emerging liberation movements. The 

temptation to play graphologist is 

overwhelming. (One of my colleagues told me 

she felt an overall naïveté emanating from 

the material in the '60s room; instead I 

felt a relief that long-slighted currents 

of that moment were here represented in 

their infancy.)

To be sure, "Counterculture" needed better 

(and in some cases just "some") labelling, 

handouts to context the material, and 

overall, better acknowledgement of sources. 

Significant efforts are under way to sort 

out and represent much of this material, 

and not only scholars need to know who to 

get in touch with. As it stands, I'm afraid 

it's a show for boomers, or those who 

already have a good understanding of the 

events in response to which these media 

products were produced. One of the show's 

observations is that the counterculture has 

moved from flyers and broadsides to the 

Internet; the show includes a Web site with 

links to a range of left-wing and 

progressive sites 


"Cultural Economies" is a more complicated 

case, since the venue of the artwork 

exhibited was not the newsstand, the campus 

or the street. Using the kind of careful 

collage of position and color that has 

marked past exhibitions put together by the 

artists called Group Material (e.g., the 

"AIDS Timeline" of 1989), curator Julie 

Ault builds a de facto alternative survey 

of the last 30 years of New York art. It 

is, of course, art exhibited outside the 

showrooms of commerce, where the content of 

the work and the intention of the artist is 

ritually reduced to a matter of style, and 

where the sustained efforts of artists in 

the '80s to seep into the mainstreams of 

media and commodity presence were 

denominated "appropriation."

Ault's is "a histories project," according 

to her introductory wall text (posted in 

two clockwise-reading parts, near the 

ceiling and at floorboard level), embracing 

"contradictory descriptions" to form an 

"unmanageable" story that is "more 

inspiring" than a conventional art 

historical narrative. Having written 

herself this broad brief, Ault's basic 

strategy was to present roughly 

chronological clusters of documents--

posters, manifestos and photographs--from 

artists' groups interspersed with larger 

works by a number of individuals hung 

throughout the installation. A few of these 

were very large for such a tight show, 

including Martin Wong's life-sized painting 

of part of a shuttered storefront,Iglesia 

Pentecostal (1983), and Rebecca Howland's 

tinted concrete outdoor sculpture Manhattan 

as a Dead Horse (1983), a bizarre animalian 

topography of a dead horse with World Trade 

Center legs straddled by an octopus. Other 

big things included numerous brightly 

painted veristic casts of South Bronx 

residents by John Ahearn and Rigoberto 

Torres, and Christy Rupp's agglomerated 

bars and bottles of Ivory soap soaring in 

the shape of tusks,99.44% Forgotten. 

"Economies" made a virtue of its crowded 

installation with striking thematic 

contrasts of position: Tim Rollins + K.O.S. 

salvaged South Bronx bricks painted like 

burning buildings were lined up along the 

floor, while Anton Van Dalen's simple 

ideographic stencil images of community 

renewal were spayed near the ceiling.

Other fine works included Jane Dickson's 

striking array of dark-colored fans (1981-

90), some painted with burning matches, 

others with skulls, and Mike Glier's early 

meaty variation on what's become a 

Holzerian formula "Clubs of Virtue" (1980), 

found pieces of turned wood painted with 

single words like "honor." Not everything 

worked well here. Fred Wilson's 

juxtapositions of Egyptian and Greek casts 

seemed quaintly pedantic in this context, 

and Louise Lawler's photographic work 

displayed on or near painted squares and 

texts is so consonant with this overall 

exhibition design that it is literally hard 

to see.

In general, Ault found and struck a 

delicate balance between context and 

object, between the agenda of the show and 

the nuanced display of complex single 

works. Still, as befits a gallery, the 

artwork was privileged. The organizations 

from which many of these artists emerged, 

like Group Material, Colab, Fashion Moda, 

and ABC No Rio were only swiftly sketched 

through spotty documents.

Collaged into this group picture was a 

predecessor group from the early '70s, the 

Art Workers Coalition, which was 

represented at the head of the show (and in 

"C-Cult") with photos of their actions and 

two of their works: the "artist's reserved 

rights transfer and sales agreement," a 

document the commercial artworld has 

scrupulously ignored, and the indelible 

Vietnam-era poster of murdered villagers in 

My Lai with the red superscription, "Q: And 

babies? A: And babies." I do not think at 

this point it is gross to call this a 

powerful, poignant work of art. The soft 

colorful representation of tangled half-

nude bodies in lush grass overlaid with 

large type bespeaks the ineluctability of 

death, the erotics of genocide, and the 

miserable insufficiency of official justice 

to redress war's horrors.

ALAN MOORE, co-founder of Collaborative 

Projects and ABC No Rio, is an art historian 

and critic who lives and works in New York.