Critics’ Picks

Tony Conrad, Waterworks, 1972/2012, 16 mm film transferred to HD video, color, 18 minutes 55 seconds.

Tony Conrad, Waterworks, 1972/2012, 16 mm film transferred to HD video, color, 18 minutes 55 seconds.

New York

Tony Conrad

80WSE Gallery | NYU
80 Washington Square East
September 12–November 9, 2012

Artist, musician, educator, but also (as trumpeted by this exhibition) community activist and agitator, the polymath Tony Conrad presents a rare and timely gathering of audio, video, and film pieces—about half of them exhibited for the first time—in “Doing the City: Urban Community Interventions.” The show tracks his nascent political interests, from Bryant Park Moratorium Rally, 1969, a two-channel audio installation for which Conrad aimed one microphone out his window at an antiwar protest and another at his TV, to the collaboratively produced (with Cathleen Steffan, Ann Szyjka, and others) Studio of the Streets, 1990–93, a weekly public-access program that unfolds on the steps of Buffalo’s City Hall and animates the voices of the local denizens and passersby.

Two filmic interventions shot near his former Bryant Park loft in New York also make their debut. Loose Connection, 1973/2011, is a jittery, nearly hour-long documentary that Conrad captured with a Super 8 camera attached to a rotating mount, resulting in a constantly panning picture. Erratic, washed-out images of pedestrians, movie theaters, peep shows, grocery aisles, and other sundries continually flicker on and off screen while a constant sound track broadcasts his conversations. The camera’s unceasing disorientation suitably echoes the environs: of Times Square’s dark days, of draft dodging and war. A bit more peace, love, and smile on your brother is Waterworks, 1973/2012, which captures a rousing summer solstice celebration surrounding an open water main/makeshift fountain at the northern end of Times Square. A percussive score sets the tempo as participants (dressed in white, bearing flowers) perform an ambiguous ritual. It feels at once like a stone’s throw and long way off from Zuccotti Park last fall. If Mark Twain’s famous idiom that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes” ricochets throughout the show, Conrad gives it a beat.