Coming of Age

1976–1985: Punk to Pomo, Basquiat to Breakdancing

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March 23, 1982

OPEC isn't the only world community with an oil glut these days. To anyone walking through Soho this week, the sense of overproduction is overwhelming. Maybe artists with waiting lists should have their paintbrushes taken away for a while. David Salle, certainly one of the best artists of his generation, is distracting us from this fact with an endless three-ring show at Castelli South and Mary Boones East and West. Surprisingly short on really good paintings, it seems more a statement of territoriality than anything else. I don't even mind the lapses in quality—it's interesting to see an artist as good as Salle push at his ideas and not be afraid to flounder. But I do mind the scale of presentation, which verges on the corporate. Discretion isn't only the better part of valor.

Of course, where production figures in, shows which don't make any mistakes can be even more boring. Jean-Michel Basquiat first made his name as the graffiti artist-poet Samo, whose observations about the state of the world have amused and provoked New Yorkers, at least downtown ones, for the last few years. I always thought Samo was some frustrated older artist who hadn't made it in the system and was taking his revenge with his exceptional graphic and verbal skill. Wrong, or at least partly wrong.

Basquiat is only 22 years old and, having turned from masonry to canvas surfaces, he seems to be having little trouble joining the system. But in a way I was right: Basquiat has absorbed every trick in contemporary painting's book at an astoundingly early age. He's so precocious he's practically old before his time and his sensibility seems very European, also in an old vein. In a word, it turns out that graffiti art can have the hell domesticated out of it. This art seems made for a museum—it has the same imitative primitiveness that I associate with Art Brut, the same roughed-up perfection that comes from savvy imitation.
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Defenseless

Learning to Live With AID

By Stephen Harvey

December 21, 1982

During the summer of last year, I started having a weird siege of immobilizing complaints, which would recede as suddenly and mysteriously as they arrived—agonizing stomach viruses, flus and fevers, an eye infection that made me look and feel like Quasimodo. Then sometime in October, I noticed a lump about the size of a kidney bean in my left shoulder, next to my neck. "It's only a cyst," murmured one friend. "You're just a hypochondriac," exclaimed another. But I realized somehow that it was a gland, and Bad News, so I repaired to my doctor, who scrutinized it with the weary care of one who'd seen a bit too much of this kind of trouble recently. Twenty tubes of blood, a few X-rays, and much poking and prodding later, the results proved inconclusive. I undoubtedly had been exposed to something called toxoplasmosis, a virus you usually get from eating raw meat or petting infected kittens. (Just ask Martina Navratilova.) My mother's response to this news was typically temperate. "Kill the cat!" she screamed, referring to my life's companion of the last seven years. But my doctor demurred. Keep on the lookout for other swollen glands, he said, and get back in touch should you notice anything amiss.

By January, I had indeed found more lumps—in the groin, armpits, the back of my head, a new array in my neck and shoulders. So it was back to my doctor, who frowned and then arranged for me to see a lymph specialist at a major medical center. This physician (who has been an invaluable help in preparing this piece but would prefer not to be mentioned by name) commenced by blandly asking some blunt questions about my sex life. So I told him. (I'm not going to tell you, not in detail anyway, except to say that by the somewhat skewed yardstick of gay life in this city, I thought I fell somewhere in the middle between reclusive and rambunctious.) He was trying to determine whether I constituted another statistic in his ever-more-voluminous files—the healthy, youngish gay man mysteriously stricken with what has recently been labeled Acquired Immune Deficiency.

The manifestations of this syndrome ranged from minor malaise to lethal pulmonary infections, to a rampant cancer called Kaposi's sarcoma, he informed me, and profligate sex seemed to have something to do with it. For Kaposi's sufferers in particular, the pattern seemed to be an average of about 100 sexual contacts per year, with some clocking in at three times that. This information came as a curious relief at the time, since in the face of such athleticism I felt like the Belle of Amherst; Emily Dickinson certainly never had to worry about KS, so maybe I'd be immune—you should pardon the expression—too. Nevertheless, it was time for more poking, more blood extracted.


image
Gay Pride march on Christopher Street, site of the Stonewall uprising (June 1982)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah

The Rose and the Thorn

Nodding Out in the East Village
By Guy Trebay

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