Critics’ Picks

View of “Generator,” 2013.

New York


Audio Visual Arts (AVA)
34 East 1st Street
August 4 - September 15

“Generator” is the decidedly antiblockbuster approach to three major curatorial interests of the past year: early 1990s nostalgia, sound art, and archives. Organized by Justin Luke, the show is both a documentation and simulation of the original East Village music store/gallery Generator, founded by Gen Ken Montgomery in June 1989. For three short years it was considered to be the only space in New York City dedicated exclusively to experimental music, cassette culture, and independent artists. The day of the exhibition’s opening, a live sound performance overlaid the din of the crowd with ambient noise—the scene a near recreation of this early ’90s underground moment.

The show dismisses the gloss of commercial exhibitions and presents material in a no-nonsense manner—thumbtacks and all. Ephemera line the walls in the form of albums, postcards, flyers, promotional letters, and personal exchanges, all of which have been in storage since 1992. On the back wall, a large grid of candy-colored cassette tapes are placed around the store’s original mission statement, which closes with, “If you want to hear anything, just ask.” Like the rest of the show, the wall installation is an effort both to recreate the original display and to document the contributing artists: Conrad Schnitzler, Chop Shop, Ken Butler, and Ron Kuivila, among many others. But not everything here is relic-status. Viewers are encouraged to rummage through albums, listen to tapes, read letters, and attend weekend performances that run through the duration of the show. A cassette player hangs on the door with the label “press ‘record’ and speak your mind,” replicating an old Generator staple and allowing a new generation to participate in the tradition.

In the back of the gallery, a video shows a young Montgomery giving a tour of the original space on East 3rd Street. He’s a bright-eyed, skinny boy with tousled hair and a T-shirt, earnestly bouncing from wall to wall to show off records and artwork. Comparing the footage on screen to the uncanny presentation in the current gallery can feel like a time warp. The hybrid experience of the exhibition, both as archive and installation, is best described in the video—pointing to the interactive cassette player on the door, Montgomery explains, “It’s a document at the end, and it’s a piece.” Just press ‘record’ and speak your mind.