Colab Inc., officially formed in 1978, when a group of about thirty young artists created a non-profit organization to take advantage of newly available state and federal grants. With its membership open to anyone willing to attend monthly meetings, Colab was a constantly changing nexus of artists. Members proposed projects, and the group's funds were allocated by democratic vote, generally supporting group exhibitions, publications and film/video projects that were open to all who wanted to participate.
Members of the group were diverse in both their aesthetics and beliefs; yet the way Colab functioned as a social network and as an open democratic forum assured a commitment to the principle of collaboration and the cross-fertilization of ideas. In those early years one could even identify a shared group philosophy: an amorphous mix of art-world pragmatism flavored with left-wing politics and a new punk-style irreverence.
One of Colab's main activities was supporting low-budget exhibitions initiated by members and open to all who wished to participate, with minimal curatorial interference. Many of the first exhibitions were theme-centered: "Income and Wealth" (organized by Colen Fitzgibbon & Robin Winters) and the "Manifesto" show (organized by Jenny Holzer & Colen Fitzgibbon), both in 1978. Colab exhibits grew in size and ambition starting with the "Real Estate Show" of 1980.
The Real Estate Show, although short-lived, put in motion the formation of ABC No Rio and an effective protest against the housing authorities’ abuse of power. The exhibition took place at 123 Delancey Street in New York City, which was a city-owned property that remained derisively vacant as communities faced homelessness, forceful evictions and exorbitant rent.
Quickly shut down by authorities, Colab members resumed their protest by distributing posters that explained the sequence of events and prompted people to continue their support at a different location. Designed by Becky Howland, Christof Kohlhofer and Alan Moore, the photocopy posters were double-sided to accommodate English and Spanish text in an effort to reach a wider neighborhood audience
A few months later, the "Times Square Show," mounted in a former massage parlor on 41st Street found by Colab artists Tom Otterness and John Ahearn, eclipsed the "Real Estate Show."
Expanding way beyond the group that made up Colab's core, the month-long show produced in collaboration with Bronx-based Fashion Moda, brought together hundreds of artists from around the city and received unprecedented press coverage. The accessible and populist tone of the exhibition with its performances and party atmosphere stood in sharp contrast to commercial art galleries.
With this playful experimentation that the Times Square Show was, artists sought to democratize art by bringing it to New York’s less desirable areas. The absolute crossroads and central to everyone, the Times Square gave artists and other younger people almost free-reign to create and curate as they pleased.
Showcasing the work of over 100 up and coming artists who came from various backgrounds, this exhibition reflected the intense giddy energy in New York at that moment. In addition to experimental painting and sculpture, it featured music, fashion, and an ambitious program of performance and video on view.
Riding the wave of publicity surrounding the "Time Square Show," Colab was invited to organize exhibitions outside New York. "The Ritz" (1983) was held in an abandoned flea-bag hotel in downtown Washington, DC, and "The Buffalo Artists' Open" (1982) was at Hallwalls, an alternative space in Buffalo, NY. Both exhibitions combined works by Colab artists with local contributions.
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