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Pioneers of the Downtown Scene: New York 1970s

Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta Clark

Installation view of Pioneers

This major exhibition examined the experimental and often daring approaches taken by these three leading figures in the arts scene developing in downtown Manhattan during the 1970s.

Performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson, choreographer Trisha Brown and artist Gordon Matta-Clark were friends and active participants in the New York art community, working between visual and performance art.

This exhibition brought together around 160 works by Anderson, Brown and Matta-Clark. Featuring sculptures, drawings, photographs, films, live performances and mixed media works, as well as posters, and other ephemera, the exhibition focused on the intersections between their practices.

These artists distanced themselves from the dominant artistic movements of the 1960s, in which the object was paramount. Taking art and performance out of their conventional contexts, the city was the setting for their work. Performances took place in the streets, on buildings and in loft spaces in downtown New York.

Tagged with: Art Gallery Archive

The exhibition was supported by the Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation and The Henry Moore Foundation.


Daily Performances 

Every day, dancers performed rarely seen early works by Trisha Brown: Planes (1968), Floor of the Forest (1970) and Walking on the Wall (1971). Dancers and other artists also reinterpret Gordon Matta-Clark’s Open House (1972). One work was performed every hour. 

Talks, Performances, Films, Events
The exhibition was accompanied by a diverse and stimulating programme of talks, performances and other events. Highlights included a live performance of Duets on Ice (1974-75) by Laurie Anderson on 3 March; two dinners inspired by Food, the restaurant run by Matta-Clark and other artists, on 24 March and 28 April; and ‘More Soup and Tart’, an evening of two-minute performances by more than 30 artists working across visual art, dance, film, music and theatre (including Penny Arcade, Simon Bookish, Rosemary Butcher, Martin Creed and Christian Marclay). 

In conjunction with the exhibition, Barbican presented a dynamic line up of concerts, theatrical performances and films. Highlights included the SPILL Festival of Performance (18–23 April); Reverberations: The Influence of Steve Reich  (7 & 8 May), and a special cinema night featuring filmmaker and photographer Babette Mangolte.