Following in the footsteps of earlier Pop artists’ appropriation and critique of consumer culture—and setting the stage for the discourse of postmodernism— Downtown artists played with advertising’s language in humorous and media-savvy ways. John Fekner and Ilona Granet employed bold graphics to convey sharp slogans, and Jenny Holzer pasted terse photocopied witticisms guerrilla-style around the city. Graffiti artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Lee Quinones took over subways and streets, asserting their identities in New York’s decaying urban landscape. Posters advertising Downtown clubs covered all available walls as Punk music ushered in a new raw, urban aesthetic. Downtown served as an image-saturated salon, hosting public forums that featured artists engaging in both corporate visual strategies and collective dissent.


Announcement for the Times Square Show, 1980.
Ron Kolm Papers, Fales Librar
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In June 1980, more than a hundred artists installed their work in an empty massage parlor near Times Square. Organized by Colab, the Times Square Show included graffiti artists, feminist artists, political artists, Xerox artists, performance artists, and everyone in between.