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Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, The New Irascibles—Artists I, 1985. Gelatin silver print, 14 x 14 in (35.6 x 35.6 cm). 

From left, rear, they are: David Wojnarowicz, Futura 2000, Mark Kostabi, Craig Coleman, Greer Lankton; (next row) Judy Glantzman (with knee up), Stephen Lack, Mike Bidlo (in Jackson Pollock’s pose), Luis Frangella, Arch Connelly, Rhonda Zwillinger; (in foreground) Rodney Alan Greenblat, Joseph Nechtval, Richard Hambelton.

Thirty-five years later, Greenfield-Sanders sought to recreate Leen’s now infamous group portrait with the emerging stars of the East Village art scene, demonstrating the inevitable flux of the artistic establishment and the difficulty of negotiating mainstream success with subcultural authenticity. When Leen had photographed the Abstract Expressionists in 1950, they were the most progressive and controversial force at work in the art world; by 1985, they were just a bunch of old guys in business suits.

The difference, this time, was that Greenfield-Sanders also included their critics, dealers and collectors, creating a series of unique but more or less identically staged images to go along with those of the artists. To accommodate the scene’s major players, he also opted to separate the artists into three compositions of twelve to fifteen people each, resulting in friction among them over the perceived hierarchy.

As Judy Glantzman, one of the artists featured in the first set remembers, this rivalry was unpleasant, even confrontational, and totally new (see Cynthia Carr, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz, 284 [New York: Bloomsbury, 2012]). For Glantzman, 1985 marked “the end of the East Village” (ibid). Greenfield-Sanders, for his part, noted the loss of intimacy—the sense that “everyone knew everyone else”—as the scene began to monetize itself and take on a greater air of professionalism (ibid, 285). As Carr herself puts it, the once-marginal network of starving artists, bourgeois bohemians, queer pioneers and hipster grifters was no longer offering up wry commentary on the establishment, it was the establishment. 

But if the scene was in decline it was for reasons greater than anyone in this small milieu could have imagined. In her book, which is at once intimate and monumental, Carr does a commendable job of situating the life of David Wojnarowicz, and those of his associates, within this consuming cultural moment, arriving at a kind of social anthropology of AIDS and drugs during the Reagan era. Dean Savard, a beacon of the scene with his Houston Street gallery, Civilian Warfare, was so deep into a heroin addiction that he had to be represented among the dealers by one of Glantzman’s life-size cutouts of art world friends and colleagues. When the shoot commenced in April, Nicholas Moufarrege, an artist, critic, curator and early champion of the scene, who had been born in Cairo to Lebanese parents and made his way to New York by way of a Fulbright grant and a Harvard assistantship, had just been admitted to hospital suffering from a rare opportunistic infection known to afflict the immune impaired, Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP). He is represented among the critics by one of his intricate post-Pop embroideries. By the time the entire series went to print in the September 4, 1985 issue of Arts magazine, Moufarrege had been gone for two months—one of the first members of the community to die from AIDS. In the years to come, many of those pictured would follow: Savard and Luis Frangella in 1990, Wojnarowicz in 1992 (five years after his mentor, Peter Hujar, and two after his rival, Keith Haring), Timothy Greathouse in 1998. 

If nothing else, Carr drives home the sheer magnitude of the crisis (the tremors of which few felt until it was too late) and the irreversible gap left by the death of so many bright, resourceful and promising young creatives. 

You can see a scan of all the images and read the accompanying article here

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