On the Radar Pioneers of the Downtown Scene New York 1970s
16th March 2011

Pioneers of the Downtown Scene New York 1970s

Words Penny Brewer

Photography Felix Clay

At the Barbican

3 March – 22 May 2011

In the 1970's New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy; faced with the disappearance of manufacturing industries, the city was turning into a centre of widespread unemployment and lawlessness.

The bleak city provided a powerful context for the work of performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson, choreographer Trisha Brown and artist Gordon Matta-Clark. Along with other artists they responded by converting derelict buildings into live-work lofts; large open spaces, to make and exhibit their work. These artists sought to distance themselves from the dominant artistic movements of the 1960s, Pop art and Minimalism, in which the object was paramount. Taking art out of the conventional gallery context and performance off the stage, they used the deteriorating city as the setting for their work. Performances took place in the streets, on buildings and in the cavernous artist loft spaces in downtown New York.

The Barbican exhibition is the first major presentation to examine the experimental and daring approaches – from dancing on rooftops to cutting fragments out of abandoned buildings – taken by these three leading figures. The double-height ceiling of the Barbican’s gallery space echoes the large scale of the industrial lofts of SoHo, providing the perfect visual landscape to showcase this rough-and-ready arts scene which developed in downtown Manhattan during the 1970s.

Click here for more information and to view a schedule of daily performances.