Ever go on a Facebook date with a complete stranger? Strangely enough, I never had, despite having thousands of "friends" and numerous stalkers. "I’ll be coming to New York City the week of April 22. Will you be around? Hope to visit," wrote the guy, a painter from Boston. I wasn’t sure if his intentions were platonic, since the picture he sent me depicted him standing around in his bedroom clad only in a pair of BVDs. At least he was in shape. "Meet me at the party," I replied.
Edgy Lower East Side community center ABC No Rio was having its spring gala and benefit auction at the Allegra LaViola Gallery on East Broadway. Gallery shows are always a good place to bring a date because they’re free and wine is on the house, and then there’s the culture surrounding you at every turn.
When I arrived, the storefront gallery was stuffed with people. Guests were standing out on the sidewalk and chatting up a storm inside. I knew a few of the attendees, some hardcore old-time Lower East Siders as well as new, young invaders. I expected some wilder guests to come flying through the doorway, but no dice. This was definitely 2011 time and the freaks were off acting crazy elsewhere. The good news was people were scrawling bids below the artwork, a lively assortment from artists like Yoko Ono, Claes Oldenburg, Willem de Kooning, Robert Indiana, Anton Perich, graffiti master Crash and Kathe Burkhart, for starters.
"How did this all begin?" I asked artist Peter Cramer, who, with his partner, dancer Jack Waters, were codirectors of ABC No Rio from 1983–88.
"Well, the Real Estate Show was when a group of artists, squatting in an abandoned city-owned building, were kicked out by cops who padlocked the front door." It’s come a long way. The collective’s founders formally acquired the Rivington Street property in June 2006 from the City of New York for $1. They’re trying to raise funds to construct a new building on the site. For the past 30 years, the place has been a funky cultural center for the community, with riotous poetry readings, Saturday afternoon punk rock shows, film and video screenings, controversial visual art exhibits, performance events, workshops and the COMA new music concerts.
"Hey there!" exclaimed a tall, grayhaired man in a studded leather jacket with his arm wrapped around a sexy brunette. Did I know them? Turns out it was my Facebook date, who had already made himself cozy with several pretty girls in the room. After a hug and some conversation, we checked out the art.
Making her entrance in red, Kembra Pfhaler from the band The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black strode to the DJ table in the back, passing by her large self-portrait, which had a starting bid of $3,500. "Kembra, what would you say about ABC No Rio?" She thought for a minute. "Just thank Jack Waters. Just thank Jack Waters." That wasn’t a problem since, in the tightly packed room, Waters was standing right next to us.