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The major photograph works of Toyo Tsuchiya began after he joined and became involved in the activities of a group of the artists of the Lower East Side in the 1980's called the Rivington School. Resisting the commercialization, being contemptuous of conventional career strategies and heavily inspired by neo-expressionism and graffiti art in the 1980's, the artists of the Rivington School shared a spirit of art brut or outsider art. Their works, in which art, music and performance were intermingled, were all about the fringe activities taking place in the working class, mostly Hispanic neighborhood centered below Houston Street on Rivington Street. Working with the artists of the group, Toyo took performance art photos focusing on No Se No, one of the gathering spots of the artists of this school where his documentation was put on the walls the day after the performance. Consequently, these works formed an intricate part of No Se No's social life and events, functioning as a record to serve the community. His photos have been exhibited at spaces across the Lower East Side and in Japan, remaining as the best documentation of the Rivington School's street works after the sight was bulldozed in 1987.

Available research materials of Toyo Tsuchiya in the AAAC Archives are 95 slides, eight photographs taken and developed by the artist himself, invitation cards, press releases, reviews and other documents revealing his role as a curator and other activities of the artist.

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NEW YORK TIMES on June 18, 1999

HOLLAND COTTER: Toyo Tsuchiya — 'Six O'Clock Observed' | Asian America Arts Center | 26 Bowery | New York | Lower East Side | Through June 26 | The photographer Toyo Tsuchiya moved from Japan to New York in 1980. This modest midcareer survey is a sampling of the kind of pictures he took in the city -- part diary, part document -- almost daily from the moment of arrival.

The show starts with a series of Polaroid-size black-and-white images that will look familiar to anyone who lived a semi-shoestring life in New York, circa 1980-81. They include shots of apartment interiors, the city under snow at night, New Year's festivities in Chinatown, the Manhattan skyline seen from the Staten Island Ferry. Each image is specific but slightly ghostly, like a still-life version of daily events, viewed from a distance even when shot close-up.

By contrast, the work from a few years later, when Mr. Tsuchiya had become involved in the art scene that was emerging on the Lower East Side, has a charged, in-the-thick-of-things immediacy. His subject wasn't the professionalized East Village gallery phenomenon but the fringe activity taking place in the working class, primarily Hispanic neighborhood centered below Houston Street on Rivington Street.

There art, music and performance intermingled; graffiti and Neo-Expression held their own after their vogue had passed elsewhere. The atmosphere was squatter-anarchic; artists, collectively referred to as the Rivington School, met in clubs and worked in the street. One tangible result of their loosely communal spirit was the so-called Sculpture Garden on Rivington, an immense and fantastic construction of welded scrap metal and other found materials that entirely filled an empty lot. (The city leveled the piece in 1987.)

Nothing remotely like this scene with its macho, improvised, beer-drinking, brain-pounding energy, exists in today's placid Manhattan art world. Mr. Tsuchiya's photographs, often pasted together into wall-filling collages, feel like reports of life on another, hipper planet, of which little trace would remain were it not for his persistent and attentive recording eye.

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VASSIFER BLOGS on Jan 15, 2015

Okay, this is a bit of a weird one. Inspired by  Hank O’Neal’s photos from that last post (that's one of his), I dug up the videos below of The Rivington School.

Garden door

As I understand it, The Rivington School was technically a loose collective of artists who put up these massive guerilla sculpture gardens, not too different from the old  Gas Station on Avenue B. Here's a shot by Toyo Tsuchiya of it circa 1986.

neuman 2

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what these first two videos are all about. This first one is the Plexus group having a “deconstruction event” at The Rivington School at some point in 1989. Keep your eyes out for an appearance by Arto Lindsay of DNA and The Lounge Lizards...

Here’s another from 1986, this one featuring the music of Ritual Tension...

Lastly, here’s another episode of Rik Little’s “The Church of Shooting Yourself.” I  wrote a little bit about this program back on this post, but essentially, “The Church of Shooting Yourself” was kind of a proto-video blog (consider Rik Little the  evil twin of Nelson Sullivan), which captured the somewhat bug-eyed, largely paranoid ramblings of Little as he traversed downtown Manhattan with his trusty video camera. I don’t know if it was shtick or not, but it frequently made for compelling viewing back in the day.

I’m not sure when this particular clip was shot, but after some frankly disturbing footage of police in riot gear strong-arming and subduing someone, Rik then appears at the remains of the Rivington School’s sculpture garden, and he (kinda) discusses its demise. Once again — if you’re only familiar with these streets from the past fifteen or twenty years, you may not recognize these places at all…..

COMMENT: Ric Little was important, well respected, and loved by the bygone scene, that was the Rivington School. His energies and talents predated that, and helped to create the environment that many a narcissistic ego bully laid claim to. I can't think of a single journalist, or journalistic approach that equals his total emersion into his subject matter as a producer, cameraman, reporter/communitarian, subject, that hits his DYI bravery.... | Posted by: Julius Klein | January 17, 2015 at 03:45 AM

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TIMELINE NOW on Nov 26, 2017

RIAN DUNDON: These radical pictures show NYC’s most dangerous 1980s art garden | The Rivington School’s lesson in junk: Turning garbage into art may not seem so revolutionary in an age when  Burning Man culture has gone mainstream and recycling is for moms and squares. But in 1985, when a group of renegade artists began filling a vacant lot in New York with trash and calling it sculpture, it was still a novel concept. In name and action, the Rivington School embodied a “fuck off” ethos closely tied to the previous decade’s punk rock maelstrom, reflecting the attitude of artists entrenched in a lower Manhattan on the cusp of gentrification. At the time there was plenty of empty space on the Lower East Side. And a hell of a lot of garbage to spare.

Artist Tovey Halleck
Artist Tovey Halleck under an arch he installed in the Rivington Sculpture Garden, 1985.
(Toyo Tsuchiya/Gallery 98)

Anti-commercial and anarchist by design, the Rivington School was a tongue-in-cheek response to the prominent art movements, or “schools,” of the time. Its members—a loose band of aesthetic misanthropes with influences ranging from performance art to graffiti to Neoism—concentrated their iconoclastic assault on the establishment from an underground bar at 42 Rivington Street. Dubbed the No Se No Social Club, it was positioned across the street from a shuttered public school—the “Rivington School”—from which the artists appropriated their name.

Panoramic view
A Panoramic composite view of the Rivington Sculpture Garden before it was
demolished in 1987. (Toyo Tsuchiya/Gallery 98)

A new exhibition highlights the work of Toyo Tsuchiya, No Se No’s resident photographer and an active participant in the Rivington Sculpture Garden, a twisted, junkyard vision that would become the group’s most enduring legacy. In his images, and others by artist Linus Coraggio, the garden’s ad hoc salvaging and construction process emerges as an extended party predicated on the young artists’ belief that no one gave a shit what they were doing. And mostly they didn’t. But as the threatening thicket of gnarled fencing, car parts, and abandoned electronics continued to grow and densify, the owners of the lot took notice. In late 1987, a particularly tall portion of the sculpture collapsed, nearly killing a group of people, and the city dismantled the piece in November of that year. Though the garden was resurrected twice again at different locations, it, along with the rest of the East Village’s vibrant arts scene, was under persistent threat from the shifting demographics—and real-estate values—of the neighborhood. Today, the Rivington School is remembered as a little-known chapter in New York’s art history, and one of the most authentic moments for outsider postmodernism at the end of the 20th century.

Photos courtesy Gallery 98 from the online exhibition Linus Coraggio, Toyo Tsuchiya, and the Rivington School, 1983–95.

Artist Ken Hiratsuka 1984
Artist Ken Hiratsuka chiseling one of his “continuous line” carvings
at Prince Street and Broadway, New York, in April 1984.
(Toyo Tsuchiya/Gallery 98)

Artist Ken Hiratsuka
Ken Hiratsuka left a real mark on the sidewalks and boulders of New York.
(Joan C. Barker + Toyo Tsuchiya/Gallery 98)

Ken Hiratsuka's carved stone
One of Ken's carved stones was the first piece of sculpture in the Rivington
School garden. (Joan C. Barker + Toyo Tsuchiya/Gallery 98)

Kelly's Fountain Sculpture
A group gathers in front of Ray Kelly’s “fountain sculpture,” outside the
No Se No Social Club in 1983. (Toyo Tsuchiya/Gallery 98)

Artist Ray Kelly and Buster
Artist Ray Kelly and Buster, 1990. (Linus Coraggio/Gallery 98)

Corragio, Catlett, and Bertucci
Coraggio, David Mora Catlett, and Fred Bertucci on Rivington Street
in 1986. (Linus Coraggio/Gallery 98)

Kelly's van 1987
Ray Kelly’s Van with hand-welded roof rack, near Forsyth and Rivington Streets, circa 1987.
(Linus Coraggio/Gallery 98)

Ed Herman's Flying Figures 1986
Rivington Sculpture Garden with Ed Herman’s “flying figures,” circa 1986.
(Toyo Tsuchiya/Gallery 98)

Working on Garden
Working on the Rivington Scuplture Garden, 1986. (Toyo Tsuchiya/Gallery 98)

Working on Garden
Working on the Rivington Scuplture Garden, 1986. (Toyo Tsuchiya/Gallery 98)

Cowboy Ray hanging out
“Cowboy Ray” Kelly hanging out with Lower East Side neighbors in the empty lot that
would house the Sculpture Garden in 1985. (Toyo Tsuchiya/Gallery 98)

Garden's first anniversary 1986
For the Garden’s first anniversary in 1986, Toyo Tsuchiya and three others completely
covered the structure in white paint. (Toyo Tsuchiya/Gallery 98)

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