Thursday, April 1, 2010

“Downtown Pix”

On a guided tour of “Downtown Pix: Mining the Fales Archives (1961-1991),” Director Marvin Taylor pointed to a Jimmy De Sana photograph of an egg coming out of a man’s anus and asked aloud, “Is this gay reproduction?”

Curious yet? Tomorrow is the last chance to catch this and over 300 other iconic images produced by lower-Manhattan’s artists from 1961 to 1991.

Now on display at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, the exhibit reveals historic, often-homoerotic works pulled from the NYU Fales Library -- the nation’s leading archive collection of Downtown New York. Yet even more intriguing than the work itself is the man behind these archives, Director Marvin Taylor.

So how did Marvin Taylor, born in 1961 in Cottage Grove, Indiana (population 109), migrate east and come to direct the Fales Library at NYU?

Marvin said he always found solace in books— he learned to read and write well before kindergarten, and by the fifth grade, he was shelving books at the local, grade school library. It was “an escape,” Taylor said, “for the one lone fag” in his small town.

He attributes his fondness for rebellion to his Quaker upbringing, which gave him a “predisposition to speak out.” In college, Marvin said that he hung mostly with the artists and the punk kids.

With his slightly tinted glasses, white beard, and small silver hoop earring in each ear, Marvin is an openly gay intellectual with a penchant for 1960s performance art (see the exhibit’s “Meat Joy” video by Carolee Schneemann).

He remembers when drug dealers bankrolled the East Village galleries and when squatting artists converted the abandoned warehouses of SoHo into lofts.

Though one might detect in Marvin a hint of longing for this nearly forgotten ‘golden era,' he maintains that “nostalgia is the death of creativity.” Nostalgia prohibits “critique.”

Whether you’re drawn to the exhibit for its iconic photograph of the Stonewall Riots, or its portrait of Patti Smith, as Marvin aptly said, “Downtown art is not for the weak of stomach.”
(Jimmy De Sana, Television, from the series Submission, 1977–78 Gelatin silver print, 10 x 7 in. Jimmy De Sana Papers)

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