From Boho to Soho

Artists Collectives Have a Recollective Moment

What does it say about the '90s that new collectives aren't starting up? Sholette thinks that, among other things, "the tremendous irony or cynicism that has crept into politics and the art world works against collective practice, against believing that one could make a cultural response that goes beyond the gallery."

It's also true that the "old" groups haven't completed their missions, so there's no reason for a new group to reinvent the wheel. Then, too, there is less space and less possible funding for a new launch. What's more, one of the big reasons a place like No Rio has kept going for 18 years is because young people keep coming in.

Seth Tobocman, a cofounder of WW3, painted the story of the Real Estate Show onto the kiosk No Rio made for "Urban Encounters." Across the face of the kiosk, which is shaped like a giant bolt cutter, Tobocman has painted the words "Space-How-U-Get-It." He may be an optimist, but he's also a longtime neighborhood activist and wanted me to know that political art is not passé. And it isn't just for people over 30.

A year and a half ago, Tobocman wandered into ABC No Rio on New Year's Eve. "Instead of the usual drunken party, I found a bunch of young people sitting around talking about what they were going to do if the police came, how they were going to cement themselves into the doorways and lock their necks to the fire escapes with kryptonite locks to protect the building." Tobocman felt compelled to participate, suggesting they act before an eviction could happen. No Rio has been an embattled space almost since it opened, but last year's civil disobedience campaign won a deal with the city. No Rio agreed to evict the artists living in the building and to raise a couple hundred thou to bring the place up to code. "We had to give in for the greater good," says administrative coordinator Steven Englander, "but we got to define the greater good."

If No Rio makes it and Bullet Space survives, they will be the last of the antispaces, one of the only shelters for boho culture in what used to be the heart of America's bohemia.

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