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Arch Connelly


by Walter Robinson
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It’s your last chance to go down to La Mama Galleria, nestled in Lower Manhattan on First Street next to the charmingly named Extra Place, to take a look at the retrospective of East Village artist Arch Connelly (1950-1993), organized by Mary-Ann Monforton, Bomb Magazine’s long-time CFO.

The show closes on Saturday, Apr. 7, 2012. The trip is well worth it, not least because when you’re done looking at the art, you can go across the street and have something at the new Veselka, which has nicely recast itself from an old LES landmark into a new EV boite. But the menu is familiar -- I had barley mushroom soup.

Everyone loved Arch. A kind of gym-rat Poindexter in t-shirt and black-frame glasses, he was cheerful and low key, always ready with a quip. He showed four times at the Fun Gallery, where he was a happy anomaly among all the graffiti artists.

Arch’s thing was artificial pearls. He covered the surfaces of his paintings, sculptures and useful objects (shelves, tables) with faux pearls of all sorts, occasionally throwing in some rhinestones and old pieces of costume jewelry. Later on, he also used glitter and sequins and even crushed egg-shell, notably for a series of “Happy Face” artworks.  

He shared his fascination with the lapidary surface with Nicholas Moufarrege, an early East Village writer and artist (and early AIDS victim), and Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, the great Pattern & Decoration artist who exhibited with Holly Solomon Gallery. If Connelly’s work was about some kind of queer esthetic, which it probably is, I don’t remember anyone making any kind of fuss about it.

The faux pearl surface holds up remarkably well today. The semi-luminescent plastic has aged into a lustrous richness, seeming more valuable, as anything that has been long treasured tends to do. The works draw you in close, provoking a notable intimacy. It’s optimistic and utopian, this idea of decorating every surface to make the world more beautiful, and a little zany, too, perfectly reminiscent of the loveable filmmaker Jack Smith.

Old hands will remember the Whitney Biennial of 1985, which was roundly trashed as the “East Village Biennial” by mainstream art-world blowhards like Robert Hughes (I’m still pissed, come to think of it). The show was hardly East Village -- the idea was just a stick the critics used to whack the museum -- featuring only Kenny Scharf, David Wojnarowicz and a few other, tangential figures. Certainly not Arch. But oh, if it had been the East Village Biennial! Now what an exhibition that would have been.

Arch Connelly, Mar. 9-Apr. 8, 2012, at La Mama Galleria, 6 East 1st Street, New York, N.Y. 10012.

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.