Colloquium: "Rezoning the Alternative: Art and Politics in New York at the Dawn of the Reagan Era"

March 28, 2019 - 12:30pm to 2:00pm

Location and Address

Humanities Center, 602 Cathedral of Learning

Rezoning the Alternative explores the history of alternative art spaces in New York City, asking how the austerity politics instituted in the aftermath of the city’s 1975 fiscal crisis impacted the organizational forms and institutional positions adopted by artists and cultural organizers. Drawn from this larger book project, the pre-circulated chapter sets the stage, tracing some of the key historical factors that led to the emergence and gradual transformation of New York’s alternative arts infrastructure over the course of the 1970s. After an exploration of the prehistory to the alternative spaces, I map the range of organizational models and ideas of the “alternative” expressed by many of the institutions, organizations, and groups composing the first wave of alternative art. I then turn to the earliest efforts to historicize the alternative spaces in the late 1970s—a period in which widely accepted narratives about the failures of the alternative spaces first emerged. Examining the complex and contradictory ways in which the early alternative spaces inherited the legacy of the counterculture and social activism of the late 1960s, the chapter exposes a crisis at the root of the alternative arts infrastructure that reappear in different guises throughout the book.

Steve Lyons (FRQSC Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History) holds a PhD in Art History from Concordia University, Montreal. He is a core member of the art collective Not An Alternative, where he contributes research, concept development, writing, and editing for the ongoing project The Natural History Museum, a mobile and pop-up museum that highlights the socio-political forces that shape nature. He has published in C Magazine, continent., esse arts + opinions, e-flux journal, The Guardian, Jacobin, Journal of Curatorial Studies, Scientific American, Narratives Unfolding: National Art Histories in an Unfinished World (McGill-Queen’s, 2017), Manhattan Marxism (Sternberg, 2018), and Museum Activism (Routledge, 2019).

Reading available here.

Poster available here

with Steve Lyons (FRQSC Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History) and responses from Terry Smith (HAA) & Dan Kubis (English)