In the mid-1970s and early ’80s, many artists chafed against the highly restrictive model of Modernism promulgated by Clement Greenberg, a powerful and influential critic. Thumbing their noses at his declaration that for every avant-garde there is a rear guard producing kitsch, they wholeheartedly embraced bad taste and incorporated all sorts of detritus to create a trash culture all their own. Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt and Rhonda Zwillinger reveled in over-the-top decoration, challenging hierarchical distinctions between so-called “masculine” art and “feminine” craft. Mike Bidlo deliberately faked hundreds of paintings by Jackson Pollock for his re-creation of Peggy Guggenheim’s townhouse at P.S. 1. David Hammons used elephant dung culled from the Big Apple Circus to create sculptures that reference both Swiftian scatology and the politics of diaspora. From the early 1980s, these outlaw refusés and their playful creations filled the streets as well as the narrow storefront galleries that quickly proliferated in “Alphabet City”—slang for the territory delineated by Avenues A, B, C, and D in the East Village—which soon dethroned SoHo as the newest and most vibrant center of Manhattan’s art world.


Mike Bidlo, Jack the Dripper at Peg’s Place, 1982. Installation view, P.S. 1. Photo: Lisa Kahane. Copyright © 1982 Lisa Kahane, NYC

Departing from the pointed criticism found in much appropriation art, Mike Bidlo attempts to inhabit not only Jackson Pollock’s work, but his soul. In preparing to imitate  Pollock’s painting technique, Bidlo closely studied Hans Namuth’s films of the artist at work. This P.S. 1 installation—Bidlo’s first appropriation of Pollock’s art—included a performance by Bidlo re-enacting the infamous incident in which Pollock urinated into Peggy Guggenheim’s fireplace, a gesture often linked with Pollock’s distinctive painting method.