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First Acker Award
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD:
HISTORIANS IN FILM:
By Antonella Francesca, 34:29 min
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.”
From an Otto Muehl action performance
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."
‘Versumpfung Einer Venus’ September 1963 [Photographer: Ludwig Hoffenreich]
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.
Patricia Smith, Bob Holman, Harry Nudel, Dorothy Friedman, Delachinsky, ►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.
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Standing, from left: Chandra Ratner, a documentary filmmaker who is making a film on Fred Jordan; Ken Jordan; an unidentified woman; Ron Kolm and Jim Feast, award recipients in the editor section. Fred Jordan (in wheelchair), is former vice president and editor in chief at Grove Press, where he worked for more than three decades starting in 1956, and was managing editor of the company’s magazine, Evergreen Review. Authors who he worked with as editor include Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Pablo Neruda, Vaclav Havel, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Marguerite Duras, Harold Pinter, Eugene Ionesco, Tom Stoppard, Abbie Hoffman, David Dellinger, Alan Lomax, David Mamet, Monty Python, William Vollmann, Art Spiegelman, Alan Kaufman and Kathy Acker. Photo by ►Clayton Patterson
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.