New York

John Heartfield

Abc No Rio

Since the inception of ABC No Rio, the artists who work most closely together there have been interested in generating a community involvement, getting local people to come in and participate, making art that can easily be seen to connect with the neighborhood. It is a noble strategy, but one with arguable success—too often the gallery functions as little more than a clubhouse, with attendant self-contained ennui, and a limited supply of either excitement or eccentricity.

Recently there have been signs that things have been-changing; new faces, new attitudes seem to have generated a collective rethinking, and there has been a string of shows that redefine the group’s history and attempt to enlarge its idea of community. To date the most inspired of these repositionings has been the John Heartfield exhibition. Aligning Dada and agitprop traditions with more recent forms of radical appropriation,the show reprocessed these strands as decor against which the everyday activities of the club continue, a backdrop for other, vaguely art-related, business. Unable to borrow Heartfield’s work itself (even old magazines develop a value greater than can be insured on the Lower East Side), the group simply borrowed a book of reproductions and photocopied it, pasting the resultant images over the black-painted walls. The ghostly grays of the copies floating in this void added a touch of melancholy to these once angry pictures, making their brutal specificity once more visible. For the truth is that Heartfield in the museum is now little more than a token of dissent, but here, self-consciously used as decor, some of the original power glimmered through the shadows.

Thomas Lawson