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First Acker Award
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD:
HISTORIANS IN FILM:
Comment by JAN HERMAN:
Transgressive Artist Otto Muehl Set Radical Template
in: ARTS JOURNAL, New York on June 5, 2013
Just in time for the Acker Awards, newly established to recognize noncomformity in the arts, obituaries for Otto Muehl have popped up in the news as if on cue. Muehl was a 1960s Vienna Actionist (along with Hermann Nitsch, Günter Brus, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler) whose “radical performance art,” as Margalit Fox put it in The New York Times, “sought to upend … the stultifying bourgeois conventions of the postwar years.”
Muehl’s death earlier this week and the award ceremonies being held Thursday in both New York and San Francisco are no more than a coincidence. But it’s obvious that with some exceptions such as Judith Malina’s, Boris Lurie’s, and Marina Abramovic’s, the artistic achievements of the Acker honorees aren’t nearly as transgressive as Muehl’s was. Not even close. “Something perverse about Austria brings out the best in certain artists,” says William Cody Maher, an American expatriate poet who lives in Germany. Indeed. As Fox writes: "Mr. Muehl splattered his nude subjects with paint in live performance and on film, but he also splattered them with soup, juice, milk, egg whites, blood, the internal organs of freshly slaughtered animals and, in a coup de grâce that appeared to follow the foodstuff to its inevitable conclusion, fecal matter. - It should also be noted that Mr. Muehl’s subjects, far from being idle, were, per his carefully worked-out choreography, generally having sex at the time. “The aesthetics of the dung heap are the moral means against conformism, materialism and stupidity,” Mr. Muehl declared in 1962."
The artist clears away taboos. What really shocks is being confronted with the facts. There is plenty to show. No one questions the State. The State doesn’t work. One cannot change it, not even through revolution. Private property is the end of ethics. Rousseau writes: “The first person to fence off a spot of earth and say, ‘That belongs to me, no one is permitted to trespass,’ should have been declared insane or beaten to death.” With this, the catastrophe of exploitation began.
Have a look at an interview Muehl gave in 2002 that puts his views in perspective.
Last Thursday night was the first annual Acker Awards, an event that is meant to celebrate avante garde arts amidst the perennial high tide of gentrification. But not just on the Lower East Side; San Francisco also has its own version.
Named for Kathy Acker – radical thinker, novelist, and performance artist – the idea for the Awards was spawned by author Alan Kaufman and neighborhood chronicler ►Clayton Patterson.
Patterson wrote the following in a recent article in the Villager: We both agree that one of the major components that fueled so much of the creatively in New York City and San Francisco was the cheap rent and the chance to live an inexpensive lifestyle. And now gentrification has basically killed the muse. Our world has changed, so let’s find a way to bring recognition and honor to the creative individuals who inspired so much of what N.Y.C. represents and who have made, and continue to make, a significant contribution to our avant-garde culture.
Acker Awards are granted to both living and deceased members of the New York or San Francisco communities. The cities were chosen for their historic linkage as centers for the avant-garde. In time, though, communities in other cities will be asked to participate.
On June 6, at the Angel Orensanz Center on the Lower East Side, the first annual Acker Awards were held.
The Acker Awards were created by myself and Alan Kaufman. Soon we expect other cities to join in. (See ackerawards.com.)
The Acker Awards are a tribute to members of the avant-garde arts community who have made outstanding contributions in their discipline in defiance of convention, or else served their fellow writers and artists in outstanding ways. It’s named after novelist Kathy Acker, who in her life and work exemplified the risk-taking and uncompromising dedication that identifies the true avant garde artist.
Acker Awards are granted to both living and deceased members of the New York or San Francisco communities. The cities were chosen for their historic linkage as centers for the avant garde. In time, though, communities in other cities will be asked to participate.
The award itself was created by San Francisco graphic designer Sammy Dwarfobia. Those who attended also received an awards poster created and printed by legendary San Francisco rock poster artist Chuck Sperry, as well as a box containing a piece of ephemera selected by an award recipient and given to me. The box was assembled with the help of Celina Leroy. Also critical to making the event happen was Klara Palotia. Klara was the intellectual energy that kept everything working and in motion.
We much appreciate and are honored that Angel Orensanz allowed us to use his venue to hold the New York ceremony. Angel’s building is the Carnegie Hall of Downtown New York.
The night started off with a solo sax performance by Avram Fefer. A local Lower East Side musician, Avra also is a clarinetist, bandleader and private teacher. He recorded with The Last Poets, Archie Shepp and many others. He now has 10 CD releases as a leader or co-leader and is featured on numerous recordings as a sideman.
The night was filled with positive energy and the recipients were grateful to be given such an honor. Steve Cannon of Tribes probably summed it up best, by saying so many of the recipients were the people always giving and so seldom are they thanked or appreciated in return for their service to community. At the Acker Awards, Cannon was honored to be remembered. He went on to say that it was highly unusual to have such a wide range of avant-garde culture covered by one award, thus bringing together in one place so many of the amazing contributors to New York City avant-garde culture.
The award was a true representation of so much that the old creative L.E.S. stood for. This night was like all the different creative factions uniting under one roof for a brief moment in time. Thank you, Steve.
There were many high points during the ceremony. Jerry Pagane was the most enthusiastic winner. He could hardly contain his joy and gave a very heartfelt thank you.
Peter Missing summarized how impossible it is for an artist to remain living and creating in this new, gentrified New York City.
Patricia Smith, a winner in the poetry section, a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, the most successful poet in the competition’s history, treated the audience by reciting one of her award-winning poetry slams.
Cynthia Carr, winner in the biography section, was a little more modest because of how overwhelmed she was feeling having recently won a Lambda Literary Award for memoir/biography and having been a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, awarded by Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, for her book “The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz,” and now an Acker Award, as well.
The evening in New York was a memorable one, and Alan Kaufman was just as pleased with how successful the San Francisco program worked out.
This is just the beginning. There will be more to come.
The only dark spot, if this could be seen as one, was the lack of presence of Soho House. Those trying to sell Soho House to the L.E.S. were talking about how great the L.E.S. is, how they love and are so enamored with the creative L.E.S. So much in love that they did not send one representative or show any connection to the award ceremony.
The last note I got was from one of the Acker winners, who said the principals involved in Soho House had promised her they would contact her, but after they were rejected by Community Board 3 for a liquor license, she didn’t hear from them again.
It seems that Soho House feels the same way toward the old-school, creative L.E.S. as the old-school, creative L.E.S. feels toward Soho House. I see them as just another version of a “Housewives” show — all gossip and no meat. To each his own.
I have finished my exploration of Soho House. It was interesting, and I’m glad that I took the opportunity to check them out.
I see them fitting into this new Lower East Side. No different than the two new luxury hotels going up on Ludlow St. Of course, though — and using this small strip of Ludlow as an example — they are a part of the reason that the Pink Pony closed, Earth Matters closed, Dare Devil Tattoo moved, Max Fish is relocating and Taylor Meade’s apartment became such a valuable piece of property.
If they Soho House does get a liquor license and open, I am sure that their street presence will not be noticeable because they are completely elitist. They do not mix with the street.
My prediction is that with this new form of Sohoization of our community, many of the noisy bars and eateries will be forced out. Those of us who have lived on the L.E.S. have witnessed the past: the East Village/Alphabet City gallery purge, then the eroding away of much of the local, small, independent and mom-and-pop businesses. The only difference between this period and the earlier period is that gentrification is happening at a highly accelerated rate. Gentrification is moving at such a high speed that bicycle racks are popping up all over the place like magic mushrooms after a spring rain.
In my effort to check them out, I heard all the different pitches. I was told that the Soho House in the Meatpacking District got rid of all the suits to make room for more creative types. One of the offers that intrigued me was that they had a program in which an artist who could not afford the heavy, yearly membership fee, which varied between $1,200 for a limited-access membership to $2,400 for full access, could trade creative work for a membership. A membership gave one entry to all of the Soho House clubs worldwide. Sounded positive. Next, the new location on Ludlow St. would need workers. I know creative people who are looking for jobs.
As I started to bring forward names of local artists for membership and jobs, I was told to put that idea on hold since it would be months before the Ludlow place was open. This confused me, since I thought if they liked what the creative person had to offer, then what difference did time make? And if Soho House liked the artwork, they already had one club in New York City where it could be exhibited. Not the case.
They had offered me a membership in trade for some photos. I asked if I could use this trade to get in another artist if I decided not to join. No go. When I visited the Meatpacking Soho House, I saw very few minorities as guests or workers.
Later, I talked to a couple of well-known Downtown artists who traded art and became Soho House members. They only used the membership a couple of times because the cost of food and drinks was so high they could not afford to go there. The limited-budget artists never met any of the so-called “right people” who could help them because there were no facilitators. Making introductions is an art form. A connector must be conscious of putting people together who would be able to mutually benefit from the introduction. Otherwise, being in this unaffordable club is not different than going to a high-end gallery opening or an evening at MoMA. All the major players are at these openings, but so what?
However, I was willing to support it because something is going to be there no matter what. The 139 Ludlow St. building, which is in my area, is one of the few that has an architecturally interesting facade. The building is only three-to-four stories high. Since it does not have landmark status and is a double-wide property, for most developers it would not make sense to keep the building as it is. For them, it would be more practical to tear this place down and build a 10-story luxury modern building. Imagine a 7-Eleven in the middle of the block.
One way of showing support was to hold the Acker Awards at this new Soho House location. Alan Kaufman, in San Francisco, and I, created the bicoastal Acker Awards (www.ackerawards.com) to bring together in one place, and honor, a wide cross-section of creative types who had made a major contribution to the avant-garde. The Acker Awards would give them credibility in the Downtown creative community.
Long story short, the 137-39 Ludlow location is an empty and barren, three-story space with some of the cement floor ripped up — similar to a parking garage with no pillars. Because it had been a printing company it smelled of oil.
The date of the event was set for June 6. The plan was that Soho House would provide the space and the emcees — they mentioned several high-level names, like Susan Sarandon and some famous musicians — take care of the RSVP list by setting up an e-mail account and monitoring the list, get some finger food, nonalcoholic drinks, a DJ, 200 chairs. Fine. As the date was coming closer, the RSVP e-mail address was finally registered, but there was little else. No emcee, nothing.
I was worried. I asked them about this and was scolded — “back off.” They were giving more than $10,000 worth of goods and services (the barren cement space and food) for free, they said. I stepped back and thought it was a joke. But it was no joke. Maybe to them I may look a little eccentric and old-school L.E.S., but that was worth $10,000? Please!
Thankfully, the Angel Orensanz Cultural Foundation, on Norfolk St., stepped up to save the day, and will host the awards on June 6.
My biggest disappointment was not the Soho House people. They behaved as expected. What bothered me was so very few locals attempted to test what was offered. People were just against them. When I wrote articles in favor of the place, nobody stepped forward as an individual. All I got was snide comments using pseudonyms. You have to stand up to be against. You have to know what you are against. Just to be against to be against is a pitiful position.
I still support Soho House. They are the lesser of what could be so much worse. There is no reason for them not to be there. The place is not for me. But then, who cares? This is not all about me. It is going to be something. The world has changed. What is, is what is, and that is all there is. My world has changed. I cannot hate everyone. Life moves on and so do I.