Leubsdorf Gallery: City University of New York, Hunter Campus
Marc Blane. Abandoned Buildings (detail), 1979.
1 cardboard box / 24 glass wine bottles, burned photographs
9 x 11 x 14" (23 x 28 x 36 cm)
In the early 1980s, I was more involved with White Columns than with Colab. I was friends with Colab members. The groups had different origins and similar aims. Both were non-profit groups that were founded in the 1970s, when there was more money available to artists in the form of grants and fellowships. Artists who didnt have commercial galleries banded together to create venues to show their work. Both White Columns and Colab allowed artists to be able to utilize public funding to exhibit their work.
The Times Square Show was an effort on the part of young artists, who had an awareness of art history, to get their work out to the public. Colab had a conscious vision of how to develop the show as a concept that would interest the media and gain wider exposure for their art. In that way, it was no different from the 1913 Armory Show, for example.
I don't consider myself to be political in the sense of being an activist. Rather, I use political concepts as points of departure, as inspiration. My art isn't directly concerned with making the community better, but I am interested in capturing the essence of my community, the "nature" of my surroundings and region. The TSS wasn't politically inspired, it was just a place to show my work. Now looking back, we are able to understand the way it locked into a particular political moment.
When I made ANT in 1976 my head was in a different place. Soon after that, my work became more conceptual. I began working from the idea down, filtering my ideas by walking around the city. At this time I moved back to the neighborhood where I grew up, the Lower East Side, a community where I'd been since the 1950s. I was always around all types of art and inner city experiences, such as the demolition of buildings. I knew the South Bronx as a full community, a place to play baseball and basketball. All my initial learning experiences and impressions of life happened within the city. After ANT, I stopped working through my hands. I was technically trained, but I started to privilege intellect over building and an interest in craft. This paralleled the development of the Conceptual Art movement, making art about an idea. Conceptual Art wasn't complete enough for me. It kept the viewer at a distance. It was during this period that I developed my philosophy of art, began looking around me more, and keeping a visual historical record about what I was seeing.
The Abandoned Buildings project came naturally to me. My whole life I was seeing empty green bottles laying in the street, all over the Bowery, Broadway, the Lower East Side and its parks. Walking home as a child, teenager, or young adult, coming out of the wood shop in my college days at Cooper Union in 1972, there were empty green bottles from bums discarded everywhere. They are ingrained in my mind, because I saw them every day. I recognized the green bottle as material, a part of life, just like the way bottle caps being ground into the street formed a mosaic: natural, unintended.
I started to think about these green bottles, and I realized that they were an evil thing. All these different cheap wines, White Port, Thunderbird, Gypsy Rose came in the same bottle, because they were all produced by the same company, Gallo. There must have been research and a designer who designed the bottle to fit the lifestyle of the most marginal group of people on the planet: homeless alcoholics and bums. Think about it. The width of the bottle fits in the palm of your hand, perfectly. Its flat shape allows it to slide into your pocket so it is there when you need a drink. The cap is screw-on, and reusable. I started to think about what the bottle really represents, who is designing it, and why. I also became interested in the containers, the shipping and packing system used to distribute this wine.
I decided to turn the whole thing upside down. The concept was to market the results of how this product functioned after the rotgut was consumed, decoding the end result of the product became the product, the art. I decided to use a similar corporate strategy, even duplicating the packaging system and embedding the "Green Bottle" with the truth. I decided on a vintage: one year, one piece. I walked around familiar neighborhoods that were now ruins, collecting the bottles and taking photographs of abandoned buildings to put inside the bottles. These materials were already embedded with the hardest aspects of inner-city life. They carried meaning about a life, a history, a society, just waiting to be uncovered and interpreted, a message, a scream. In a way, Abandoned Buildings is a microcosm of my community, with Folk and Conceptual Art as inspiration.
ANT, like many works in the TSS, was not made specifically for that exhibition, though I was invited to exhibit it there. Ideas incorporated into ANT came from the same soul as the Abandoned Buildings. The same individual disappointed with the planet, someone with a more pensive approach to looking for answers. The difference is that with ANT I was thinking through my hands and then arriving at the concept. In the mid-1970s we were still reacting to the 1960s, and were heavily affected by Vietnam, the death of close friends, the draft, war, violence, addiction, and so on. I was looking for answers within materials. I was processing my thoughts using the language of visual art.