Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

‘Pioneers of the Downtown Scene’

  • Comment

‘Pioneers of the Downtown Scene’ throws up the question of whether street art can be shown in a gallery, writes Crystal Bennes

Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, Barbican Art Gallery, £8 online/£10 on the door, until 22 May 2011

The challenge of the Barbican’s ‘Pioneers of the Downtown Scene’ show, starring Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown and Gordon Matta-Clark, was always going to be about how to bring work rooted in the urban environment into the gallery. The problem is that most of this work, especially Matta-Clark’s, whose building ‘cuts’ influenced a generation of architects, doesn’t belong in a gallery.

Many have made comparisons – curator Lydia Yee included – between 1970s New York and the underground art scene in London; both shared the desire to ignore commercial interests and occupied less-desirable parts of the city in a land grab for cheap studio space. But disappointingly, there’s nothing in the show that links these movements together.

Not that the entire exhibition is a write-off: Tom Foulshom’s reinterpretation of Laurie Anderson’s Electric Chair is hilarious and exhilarating; Clock Shower, a video of Matta-Clark on the top of the Clocktower in New York shaving and brushing his teeth is a perfect symbiosis of slapstick comedy and urban provocation.

The only piece of Matta-Clark’s that’s to scale in the show is Open House, an industrial waste container that the artist installed on Greene Street in 1972. He fitted the container with a maze of salvaged doors and an open roof and left it on the street, open to all. Matta-Clark made a film documenting the installation; one section shows a group of artists splashing through the rain performing an impromptu umbrella dance in and around the structure. Again, the problem is that this piece belongs on the street, not in a gallery: here it loses its spontaneity, authenticity and power.

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.