– Autumn/Winter 2009

AC2K, A.F.A., Co. & C. de L.

Jackie McAllister

Art Club 2000, an artists' collective active during the 1990s, was made up of eight enterprising art school undergraduates: Craig Wadlin, Soibian Spring, Sarah Rossiter, Will Rollins, Shannon Pultz, Daniel McDonald, Gillian Haratani and Patterson Beckwith, who made art and produced exhibitions - two activities they understood as having separate implications. When the group began they were studying at Cooper Union - a tuition-free institution in New York's East Village - with teachers such as Hans Haacke and Mark Dion, meaning that although the members were exposed to the extreme capitalism of the city, they were also allowed enough distance to appreciate its effects.1 Art Club 2000, with its precocity, became a unique clash of commodity fetishism and institutional critique.

The collective was formed through the instigation of Colin de Land, the late New York gallerist who became known for his anti-conventional commercial gallery, American Fine Arts, Co. De Land's interest in developing the Art Club 2000 experiment stemmed from his disappointment with the machinations of the New York art scene, and with an art economy predicated on money and stardom. In many ways AC2K - a group of young people with nothing to lose in terms of art-world standing - could be seen as de Land's 'fuck you' to the art world and its careerist denizens.

De Land's involvement from the beginning is essential to the group's history. Its association with his gallery provided AC2K with a platform from which to develop works and exhibitions, as well as a modus operandi of insistent questioning. The gallery itself was a peculiar and revealing institution within the New York art world, as de Land strove

  1. Hans Haacke was a professor at Cooper Union from 1967 to 2002. Mark Dion was a visiting professor. Other influential teachers included Doug Ashford of Group Material, Laura Cottingham, Gregory Crewdson, Douglas Crimp, J. Hoberman, Rosalyn Deutsche, Niki Logis, Lorna Simpson and Faith Wilding.

  2. In the theory of relativity, an 'event horizon' is a boundary in space-time, beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. This metaphor can be read as a sci-fi revision of Harold Rosenberg's formulation that the action of painting takes place within an 'arena'. This idea, of a canvas as an arena, which Allan Kaprow extended into the realm of performance art, became the most fruitful outgrowth from Abstract Expressionism - or 'Action Painting', as Rosenberg would have it.

  3. All quotes from Patterson Beckwith and Daniel McDonald come from conversations with the author, May 2009. Firsthand accounts of AC2K, unless otherwise noted, come from Beckwith and McDonald.

  4. The store, now closed, is once again a pizzeria, itself a relic of Olde New-York as it sits among the izakayas and yakitori bars now catering to the young Japanese revellers of the East Village.

  5. Roland Barthes, The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962-1980 (trans. Linda Coverdale), New York: Hill & Wang, 1985, p.130.

  6. Rifkin was convicted of the murder of nine women (although it is believed he killed as many as seventeen) between 1989 and 1993, mostly drug-addicted prostitutes that he would pick up in his truck on nearby Allen Street. See Gary Indiana, 'One Brief, Scuzzy Moment', New York Stories: Landmark Writing from Four Decades of New York Magazine, New York: Random House, 2008, pp.297-306.

  7. Conversation between Mark Dion and the author, July 2009. Future members of Art Club 2000 made their introductory visit to American Fine Arts, Co. prior to taking Dion's class at Cooper.

  8. George Baker spoke at the memorial service for de Land held at Great Hall, Cooper Union, on 26 October 2003, followed by the opening of the exhibition 'Wild Nights: Remembering Colin de Land' at CB's 313 Gallery, next door to CBGB club, which hosted the memorial concert 'Rockout: At CBGB & OMFUG', headlined by Kembra Pfahler's The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, a favourite of de Land's.

  9. Following Black Monday, with the collapse of the East Village scene, there was a winnowing of galleries. Those that survived were either at the top end or were like A.F.A., Co., run with every conceivable cost- cutting measure, while those that were 'middling' were swept away. Or perhaps, to quote the King James version, 'So then because thou are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.'

  10. De Land only advertised with Artforum, which he considered The New York Times of the art world - 'the magazine of record' - and the magazine would sometimes cut de Land a deal for quarter-page, black-and-white advertisements in exchange for electrical work done in their offices.

  11. Hugh Gallagher, 'Global Art: Art Club 2000', Flash Art, March/April 1994; and interview with Daniel McDonald and Art Club 2000, 'Talking More Paranoid Conspiracy Trash About Your Friendly Neighborhood Denim Vendor', Grand Royal, issue 1, 1993, available at http://www.beastiemuseum.de/ gr/1996/Magazine/Issue1/Features/GAP/default.htm (last accessed on 13 August 2009).

  12. Glenn O'Brien, 'Into The Gap: Art Club 2000', Artforum, vol.32, February 1994, pp.72-75.

  13. Following the 'broken windows' theory of zero-tolerance policing, the Guiliani administration prosecuted minor infractions (such as squeegee men, who cleaned car windscreens at city intersections, fare-beaters on the subway and jaywalkers) in attempt to prevent the occurrence of major crime.

  14. The title alluded to Roland Barthes's essay 'The Death of the Author' (1968), published in English in R. Barthes, Image-Music-Text (ed. and trans. Stephen Heath), London: Fontana Press, 1977, pp.143-48.

  15. Walter Hopps in conversation with the author, in a discussion of the work of artist Danny Tisdale, 'The Black Museum', Grand Street, vol.55, Winter 1996, p.159.