Alternative Histories was a history of New York City alternative art spaces and projects since the 1960s. Through audio interviews with founders and key staff, a reading room of magazines and publications, documentation, ephemera and narrative descriptions, the exhibition told the story of pioneering spaces – like P.S.1, Artists Space, Fashion Moda, Taller Boricua, ABC No Rio, The Kitchen, Franklin Furnace, Exit Art, 112 Greene Street, White Columns, Creative Time, Electronic Arts Intermix, Anthology Film Archives, Storefront for Art and Architecture, Just Above Midtown, and many more – and also documented a new generation of alternative projects such as Live With Animals, Fake Estate, Apartment Show, Pocket Utopia, Cleopatra’s, English Kills Art Gallery, Triple Candie, Esopus Space, and others.
Over 130 spaces were represented in the show, which elaborated on the significant contributions these organizations made to the cultural fabric of New York City. They gave visibility and inclusion to otherwise excluded artists and ideas. The idealism of the founders and the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in sustaining these histories, against all odds, illustrated the dynamic purposes that propelled the artistic scene in New York. “Imagination is an alternative to reality, creating options that never end,” says Papo Colo.
The exhibition incorporated a broad definition of the term “alternative space,” and included significant publications and artist collectives to cover a broad arc of this history – bridging neighborhoods, decades and themes. In the development and organization of this exhibition, the curatorial team viewed dozens of archives and personal collections – selecting critical materials from the histories of the spaces and projects – and interviewed founders and early staff members, when possible, to construct a narrative about the alternative space movement in New York and its continuing impact on the city’s cultural and artistic landscape.
Alter the Native
Imagination is an alternative to reality, creating options that never end.
History is a complex set of events that we organize at our convenience.
Alternative is the choosing of options that redefine the traditional.
Alternative spaces are another way to interpret reality,
an unconventional product of the mainstream.
They are the explorers of possibilities.
That was how this movement began.
But as the systems of power absorb our ways,
the alternative becomes mainstream and we again have to conceive new options.
Culture is always changing and the alternative task is to interpret that transformation.
Dissatisfaction with the ordinary art world is the motive,
to create another dimension in which different cultural trends are produced,
understanding the same bending in the culture
but with unique ways to express it.
Art is how populations use knowledge.
A new approach to an old method,
seeing the extraordinary before the ordinary arrives
The great idea of democracy is that it is run by alternatives.
The thirteen colonies were the original alternative space.
Art is the expression of everything we envision.
History has different stories depending on the narrator.
European colonization was the alternative to the native Americas.
Africans were the alternative to the hard work Europeans avoided.
Extermination and slavery were the apparatus to alter the native of the Americas.
Alternative is destruction and creation.
In art, science and life to alter the status quo is to build something new.
Evolution is the mixture of things, transforming us into unknown forms.
Alternative, then, is the different selections that history makes.
These can be positive or negative,
but always biased depending on which side of the facts you are.
Times change and stay the same.
Since the 1960s, where this exhibition begins, art production has developed multiple currents, cultural bureaucrats, the overpopulation of dealers, and the “critic” commentator with invisible and visible connections to institutions and individuals. “The art world” has multiplied its ability for commerce and propaganda, hyping the importance of artists to increase their value.
We are all in this circus of lies and truths,
surrogates in a vortex of what is new or of what wants to be new,
a mirage of self-interest of countries and ethnic chauvinism.
Art has become city fiestas of cultural tourism.
Museums will not survive without this, national cultures are chain stores of diplomacy, the competition of influences are the real objective of art production. Museums are hungry creatures that with their influence, compete and swallow small places like the alternatives spaces. Control is supremacy, monopoly an imperative, art and artist the medium in which to express their importance.
The alternative space is supposed to denounce these manipulations
and work the ethical side of the cultural production.
The alternative space is the most autonomous method of reinventing intervention.
Without alternatives culture has no break from its actions,
no perspective, no mirror to see its shortsightedness, no future.
Alternative spaces are alternative societies, constructing parallel histories.
Alternative has been associated with the young, new or unusual, but as the concept has grown older they have become also wise and prophetic.
Art is the action of consuming the self
and the supreme manifestation of humans.
Agitate the arts and powers shake.
Alter your life and the world will change.