The Face of Downtown

The Face of Downtown

Every place and time has a representative personality. For downtown New York in the period just ending—the New York of Soho and the East Village, middle 1980s—the representative personality is a certain type of bohemian, similar to other bohemians we have known, but with distinctive traits. No single art work has managed to evoke this personality in all its characteristics. We do not have a Henry Murger, no Scenes de la vie de l’avenue A, not yet, anyway. Nonetheless there are portraits. I point to one called The Birth of the Poet.

The Birth of the Poet was a spectacular theatrical failure of 1986 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was a collaboration by Richard Foreman (staging), Kathy Acker (book), David Salle (scenery), and Peter Gordon (music), which made it something of a World Series for at least one branch of the downtown avant garde. The collaborators described their work as an opera. Of course it wasn’t an opera, since the music played a minor role. Nor was it exactly a drama, since the book served mainly as one more object for the actors and creators to get weird about.

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Lima