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Manhattan transfer

The Good/Bad Art Collective takes Manhattan: Some of the group's New York and Denton members gather outside the venue where they staged its New York debut.

The Lower East Side of Manhattan is not exactly a slice of New York known for its cinematic beauty, what with its crowded tenement buildings, grime-baked streets, and indigenous odors of vomit and urine. Yet for a handful of years, it has been the last bastion of downtown bohemia for young art types who have been forced by astronomical rent increases to abandon the very neighborhoods they cultivated: Chelsea, SoHo, TriBeCa. The Lower East Side is all that these young pioneers have left (save Brooklyn), the only chunk of real estate on the 13-mile island that hasn't been gentrified by the Gap and Starbucks and cash-laden Wall Streeters. And by the look and smell of it, it may be a while before the corporate bigwigs care to set up shop in the middle of this urban sprawl.

But the neighborhood's frayed character doesn't prohibit all outside invasion. In fact, smack in its center, on Rivington Street, there's an extraordinary attack going down, an invasion of artists from Denton, Texas of all places. It's happening insidiously, optimistically, and all within the crumbling brick walls of an art-performance space called ABC No Rio, a five-floor walk-up with a living-room-sized exhibit space on the street level and a brick-walled basement once used as a punk-rock venue. The building's façade is windowless and blanketed with graffiti, giving no hint of the buzz and frustration seething within.

Because on this early July night, a gaggle of nearly 20 exhausted young Texans has claimed this space, gutted it, and been invited to transform it. In less than 24 hours, Denton's Good/Bad Art Collective is making its New York debut.

These young artists, together, make the kind of unblinking art that will give you pause by the very strength of the ideas behind it. They are champions of concepts rather than tangible forms, though their technical and material achievements can be breathtaking.

After no less than 150 events in a half-dozen years, Denton's Good/Bad Art Collective has certainly carved out its niche in North Texas -- hard not to when it's the only force in the region creating conceptual art en masse and regularly. And with that, several key members have decided New York is the ripest spot for the collective's logical expansion.

Their New York opening signifies so much -- almost too much -- for Good/Bad, making it the collective's most crucial event to date. It encompasses two years of talk about starting a Good/Bad in New York to accommodate the smattering of member migrations from Denton to Brooklyn. And to accommodate Good/Bad's own explosive ambition.

But this is New York -- unforgiving, ever-scrutinizing New York. The swishy hub of the international art scene, the land of high-dollar galleries and big-money dealers, the weathered stomping grounds of nearly every celebrated artist of the past century. Art movements are born and put to death here. Artists are born and put to death here. The mystique alone is enough to keep most North Texas artists away, safe in the cocoon of a more financially amiable region. No slackers or amateurs are given keys to New York -- they are driven out by the sophisticated masses that demand no less than the edgiest, most professional, most ambitious visionaries. Any weaker artist is seen right through, a nuisance to be expelled or buried the way Mayor Rudolph Giuliani expels (or buries) the homeless.

Here, no rookie can take for granted any shard of success. Here, an artist might slave twice as hard to achieve half as much.

Is Good/Bad, the little collective that could blow your mind in North Texas, ready for this giant leap, this physical and spiritual invasion of The Big Apple?


At this stage in the installation, things don't look so good. It's 11 p.m. on Thursday; the show opens in less than 24 hours. Seems as if the handful of Good/Bad members sweating it out at No Rio sans air conditioning have accidentally dragged a tornado indoors with them: Ancient, rotting brick goes head-to-head with new, still-wet drywall; ceilings are riddled with holes the size of turkey platters; the floor is scattered with trash to be hauled out. There's debris from a half-dozen "pieces" -- the individual sculptural elements that, together with more pieces still in transit, will form the visual bulk of their one-night-only art event titled "Joey on I.C.U."

Most of Good/Bad's bigger events revolve around some perverse theme: war crimes, waste management, kiddie carnivals. The collective constructs its (always droll) implications through thematically linked objects and activities and performances. "Joey on I.C.U." surges beyond that into full-blown storytime; but at this point, there is no sign of the installation's narrative: something to do with Joey, a young hospitalized kangaroo telling the tale of his misadventures through a world populated by hostile Indians, a kindly circle of knights, and a stagecoach pulled by an injured jackalope. This is Good/Bad surrealism taken to an extreme, and nothing is ready.

 

One Good/Bad artist carries overflowing trash bags out to the curb, another member fiddles with an electronic switchboard, another constructs the top of a teepee sticking up through a hole in the floor. Behind a dripping new wall, a member tries to predict the drinking habits of those attending the opening -- gotta set up the wet bar. Out back, yet another member organizes the installment of a huge fireworks display, another piece of the narrative puzzle. Upstairs, on No Rio's printing press, Good/Bad's New York supporters are making T-shirts and fliers.

The manic frenzy is enough to make some members regret leaving Denton in the first place. At least until they're asked to recall why they made the move.

"I was discouraged about doing creative things in Texas," says Dan Bailey, the first member of Good/Bad to head to New York. "There were a ton of people putting in countless hours, putting out such quality work, and just a handful of people were seeing it. It was like a vacuum."

Bailey voices the common Dallas-artist lament: The North Texas region lacks the resources -- the audience and the national profile -- to support boundary-pushing art. The nagging sensation that the metroplex is still a second-tier contender, culture-wise, compared with New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco, is something that's driven Texas creatives out of state for years. The trickle outward is tangible. These last few years, the movement of young artists to New York has picked up momentum: Plenty of jobs there, plenty of galleries, an art scene buzzing with possibility.

"It seemed like a logical step to come up here and do crazy-ass and quality work and get more exposure," Bailey says.

He arrived in New York in January 1997, a few years after graduating from art school at the University of North Texas (the Good/Bad alma mater) and after spending three years in the collective. He also founded the region's prominent ska-rock band, The Grown-Ups, did his Denton time, and felt compelled to move on.

Whereas other members had cut ties with Good/Bad, setting out for grad school or post-college careers, Bailey didn't so much want to abandon the collective as expand it. "Continuing Good/Bad in New York was a hope I had," he says. "I was half-joking, but I went looking for something like it."

Six months went by without finding a Good/Bad party in progress. He scraped by in odd jobs, he played in bands, he sold off his CD collection, one by one, just to eat dinner. And he thought about coming home.

Then Bailey landed his current job as a producer of photo shoots for a catalog company, and he decided to stick it out. It also helped that a few of his Good/Bad cronies had begun migrating to New York. Karl Conrad, an occasional contributor to Good/Bad events, came to pursue a career in graphic design. By the summer of '97, he and Bailey began to touch on the possibility of a New York spin-off.

"I got here and saw a huge void," Conrad says. "No one was doing what Good/Bad was doing."

"There's too much classic art-magazine type art," adds Will Robison, longtime Good/Bad member and Bailey's roommate. "And too many quick puns. The obvious stuff, it's everywhere." Robison headed up to New York in the fall of '98, using his enrollment at New York's School of Visual Arts as an excuse.

"Good/Bad was my main focus -- bringing these guys together -- Karl, Dan, and we knew Chris Weber was coming," Robison says. Sure enough, Robison's classes were too theoretical for an artist with a strong taste for disturbing his audiences.

On Christmas Day, 1998, Chris Weber -- Good/Bad's benefit coordinator -- arrived in New York. Back in Denton, Weber had organized the frequent live-music fund-raisers that kept the collective financially afloat -- crucial for a group that otherwise subsists on modest monthly membership fees and student wages. His cash-raising acumen was a serious coup for the New York contingent. Together again, the four transplants sought a new home for Good/Bad in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn.

Williamsburg has, in the last decade, taken up Manhattan's lost cause of affordable rents for fresh creatives. The neighborhood feels today the way Greenwich Village must have felt 50 years ago: emerging artists and art spaces precariously co-existing with deep-rooted locals. After nine months of price-haggling, Bailey, Robison, and Weber found a three-bedroom apartment carved out of the second floor of a 3,500-square-foot building, which will eventually become Good/Bad's Brooklyn studio and gallery. Despite the occasional gunshot from a nearby drive-by, the space reeks of potential: a sizable open room for gallery space, a massive enclosed garage for studio work.

 

Several other Denton members are planning a move to New York before the year is out, including the collective's longtime director, Martin Iles, and Good/Bad's practical-minded den mother, Heather Grace. How this migration will affect Good/Bad Denton remains to be seen. The Denton sector may become -- if it survives the exodus and continues to recruit new artists -- a type of junior training ground for future Brooklyn-bound members.

But what if the New York siphon drains Denton of its creative charge? New York is crawling with young artists, however destitute. It's a city infested with artists who have a knack for disassociative and abstract thinking -- the type of stuff Good/Bad eats for breakfast. New York might not notice Good/Bad's arrival, but the North Texas region would certainly feel the loss of its most generous source of unexpected art.


"Essentially, Good/Bad is a group of people who come up with an idea for an experience and translate that idea into an event using the trappings of conventional art practice," Conrad explains. "The result is accessible but not trite."

But what inspired such tactics? To get to the marrow of Good/Bad, look no further than the history of conceptual art. Early in this century, artists began shoving the boundaries of art far past their established points of painting and sculpture. The trick is to value concept over form, idea over material. Thus, the viewer's perception of a piece is an integral part of the artwork. As early as 1917, artist Marcel Duchamp exhibited a porcelain toilet in a gallery, thereby defining a ready-made object as a "work of art."

But conceptual art takes countless forms: process art (where the unfolding action is the art: Damien Hirst's glass cases of flies spawning, living, and dying around the nourishment of a severed cow head), performance art (the action of the artist is the art: New York artist Chris Burden had a friend shoot him in the shoulder before an audience that watched the assault as though studying a painting), installation art (which is customized to and dependent on the space around it), and Dada (absurdist art like Duchamp's toilet). Often these types are combined.

Conceptual art came to the fore in the 1960s with a group of international artists calling themselves and their movement Fluxus, who sought to raise social goals over aesthetic ones. Theatrical, musical, poetic, Fluxus recognized no rules for what art should be, and looked to force a response from the viewer. Simply sending a letter became an artwork; the U.S. Postal Service and the letter's recipient were unwittingly caught in the wake of Fluxus-generated correspondence art.

By the early '70s, England's duo Gilbert & George were ruffling art-world convention not so much by denouncing traditional forms as by twisting them. These clean-cut men with letters attached to their tweed suits pronounced themselves living sculptures: "George the Cunt," "Gilbert the Shit."

Duchamp, Burden, Fluxus, Gilbert & George -- these are the spiritual godfathers of the Good/Bad Art Collective.

In 1993 a UNT professor-artist, Vernon Fisher, was conducting a class called "Hybrid Forms," which introduced his students to boundary-shattering conceptual art. A few of his undergrads, including Rod Northcutt, took these ideas to heart and decided there wasn't enough of it happening in the stodgy North Texas area. With no connection to the university, he and his art buddies teamed up to tackle the problem, their collective eye turned toward anything but traditional artwork.

Things started small: in 1994, member Kim Bridwell treaded water in an 8-foot-tall, opaque tank from which you could hear her splashing and paddling (for hours on end), but couldn't see her. In 1995, Good/Bad set a banquet table with a real buffet, though the table itself was a video monitor showing an aerial view of hors d'oeuvres disappearing at hungry hands.

In the spring of '97, Robison and member Richie Budd turned four frat guys into a Good/Bad piece. They sealed them in a tiny observation room containing no more than a full keg of beer, a microphone, and some colored markers. In front of an amused audience, madness ensued: bad graffiti, abject drunkenness, jeers at their viewers -- followed by a raucous breakout four hours later. Frat monkeys in an art zoo.

Good/Bad was divorced from all convention, from paintings at an exhibition or sculptures in a garden. Events, happenings, conceptual explosions, and social activity took precedence over the material artworks at their center. The collective's name was born of the two simplest descriptions of art: good and bad.

 

In the past six years, Good/Bad has seen around 70 members come (mostly from UNT art school) and go (Northcutt bounded off to graduate school after a year, passing the director baton to Denton native Martin Iles). The collective maintains an average of 20 members at any one time, yet produces events at a staggering pace, averaging one opening or event every two weeks. Most of these take place in Good/Bad's Denton home -- a small whitewashed building in an industrial part of town -- though the collective has taken its flash-and-burn bravado into gallery spaces in Dallas (500X, the Angstrom, the Conduit), the Arlington Museum of Art, and a couple of notable spaces in Houston. And, really, Good/Bad doesn't merely visit these venues with some quirky ideas. It possesses them with the heartiness of a full-blown demon.

From the collective's inception, its manifesto has been to stage one-night-stands rather than the standard long-running show. The demon possession swells up for an evening in the chosen venue then -- poof -- evaporates into a glorified memory. Self-exorcism complete, mystique intact. The one-night-only event may mean Good/Bad sacrifices the potential art review, and it may mean that the collective has to work double-speed to keep the entertainment coming (and going), but it's a boundary Good/Bad members romanticize.

"It's the do-or-die quotient," director Iles says. "If it's a six-hour show, people have to make time to see it. It allows the work to interact with social consequences."

In the fall of 1997, the collective turned the massive interior of Houston's DiverseWorks into an exact, scale-size replica of the Good/Bad Denton building, including sagging furniture, malodorous shag carpeting, and barred windows. But not without building a full-size roller-skating rink around it; patrons could pick up a pair of skates at DiverseWorks' box office and careen around this transplanted slice of North Texas. An imported roller disco tinged with Denton irony. It took nearly two weeks to build, was enjoyed by hundreds of visitors, and was gone the next day.

Earlier this summer, Good/Bad took over the upstairs of the Arlington Museum of Art, staging an installation titled "We're on our way to dinner, but we have to pick up something first." The event was locked in mystery, packed with curious viewers, who one by one were handed a key to an "apartment" and added to the waiting list. Each viewer, after negotiating an extraordinary replica of the outside of a suburban-type apartment complex (the nauseatingly peachy "Piña Heights"), would enter his furnished apartment to the happy shouts and back slaps of his own surprise party. Cheerful "friends" gathered round. Polaroids were snapped. A cake was emblazoned with the viewer's name.

Then, as quickly as it hit, the viewer was shuffled onto the back landing, and it was over. Everyone at the museum who'd completed this adventure kept the secret, careful not to spoil it for the remaining patrons. All that remained the next day was a shell of the apartment and a fridge covered in Polaroid snapshots revealing a host of very surprised individuals.

Not all of Good/Bad's events are as ambitious or cohesive as these, but each packs the double fist of irony and heart. The collective's reputation has swelled more noticeably in the past few years, as the regional media got wind of its antics, and the collective extended its tentacles into deeper conceptual crannies. What was once an obscured ace in Denton's hand became an artistic force to be reckoned with.

Within the collective, individuals might distinguish themselves, though that's never the goal. The collective avoids cultivating individual glory with singular venom; besides Martin Iles' role as director, Weber's role as benefit coordinator, and Chris Swenson as treasurer, the collective recognizes no official strata. Bring your blood, sweat, and aberrant souls to the table, and get out of it what you give.

Nonetheless, Good/Bad is made up of artists with individual vision, and sometimes a specific member's aesthetic creates a stir. Good/Badder Erick Swenson has stumbled into the spotlight of late, mostly on the eerie strength of his taxidermy-based, fantasy animal sculptures. Sad and beautiful and disturbing, Swenson's snow creatures reaped their own glowing press last year with his one-man show at Dallas' Angstrom Gallery. Since then, collectors have commissioned him for new pieces, and the Dallas Museum of Art awarded him the Kimbrough Grant and secured one of his pieces by private donation.

The mild-mannered, on-and-off UNT student joined the collective in 1994, and like most of its seasoned members, Swenson says that Good/Bad provides a far more useful education than any college art class; it's intensive, hands-on, and deadline-oriented.

Yet Swenson is one of the remaining veterans not contemplating an immediate move northeast. "New York is a tough town," he says. "My last visit was a reality check." He reflects on the ABC No Rio show, on the difficulty of getting the details of the installation under control. "Just tracking down the right nail or screw was tedious. It took us two days to finish out one section of sheetrock because of unexpected problems."

 

When pressed Swenson admits that he may eventually end up in New York. "I'm not making those plans now," he says. "But I'll have to get out of Denton."

And that's just it: Members aren't so much outgrowing Good/Bad anymore as Good/Bad is outgrowing Denton.


The swelling Brooklyn sector is made up of the four official Denton pioneers, and as of now, the dozen or more New York contributors who donated energy to the ABC No Rio show have the option to join. Then there's the promise of another few Dentonites hitting town before the year is up. Attendance at the weekly meetings in Brooklyn steadily climbs.

Last fall, the three in-place New York Good/Bad pioneers attended an art opening at ABC No Rio that showcased the work of some Texas artists. Among them was Bill Davenport, who introduced Bailey, Robison, and Conrad to No Rio's director, Steve Englander, and sometime curator Delfina Vannucci, who offered them a tentative July opening.

The trio had yet to secure their own studio, but were itching to start work, so they jumped. They wanted to launch a full-scale Good/Bad event, combining New York and Denton resources.

"We were so ready," Robison says. "We were offered a show in a space other people would turn down, and we took it, which is very Good/Bad, anyway."

The spontaneous conception of "Joey on I.C.U." epitomizes Good/Bad's organically inventive brain. At a favorite New York hangout, "we sat around eating Mexican food, writing down the things that turned us on, bringing those things together," Robison says. "A lot of the sculptures we thought of instantly, knowing what Good/Bad members are capable of doing."

Denton and New York members kicked around the "Joey" idea for months, adding and subtracting narrative elements as communication faltered and flowed. "If you'd only been at the meeting where I first described the Joey concept," Iles says. "Stunned silence."

New York members had come up with the bones of the story; Denton would embellish and define it. Both locales worked tirelessly to make this convoluted, hyper-ambitious collaboration a reality. Iles' father owns the Denton sculpture foundry Boliver Bronze, and it was there that Iles and co-member Shane Culp built the stagecoach -- scaled down to kangaroo size. Back at Good/Bad's Denton building, others sweated over the design of Maple, the ill-fated jackalope. In Brooklyn, members put their noses to the grindstone on Joey the animatronic kangaroo and the Rondo Indians' guns. All told, more than a dozen narrative elements had to be designed, built, filmed, edited, sewn, and painted.

Only two things seemed clear from the inception: Like all Good/Bad shows, "Joey on I.C.U." would span one night only. And this being Good/Bad, there would be music.

Good/Bad's ties with music are thicker than steroided muscles: The first Good/Bad event in Denton, on September 18, 1993, was a rock benefit featuring Denton favorites the Banes and Wayward Girl. Since then, about half of Good/Bad's happenings have been music-related, and they have encompassed nearly every acclaimed act on the local indie map: Centro-matic, Bobgoblin, Baboon, Caulk, Slobberbone...It's a necessity, really. Good/Bad's art events, free to the public and not for sale, don't make money, so Good/Bad enlists willing musicians to raise cash for them. It's a watertight proposal -- exposure for the bands, a built-in audience, and the cover charge going to the cause.

Only, being Good/Bad, a benefit rock performance can't just be a standard performance. It's gotta be art, and that's where Chris Weber comes in.

"I'm not an artist," insists Weber, whose role in Good/Bad is primarily to conjure up interesting ways to showcase rock music.

"I wanna shake things up," says the former booking agent of the Argo, Denton's now-defunct and legendary indie-rock club. "Shake up the way bands think about their own music and the way the audience responds to it."

Weber's first benefit for Good/Bad, in the spring of 1996, is still one of his favorites. Called "Space Rock/Roots Rock," it pitted bands from the two pop genres against one another. In the days prior to the event, Weber pasted up mysterious fliers all over Denton, their message implying a tension between the high-tech meanderings of space rock and the conventionally warm tones of roots rock. By the end of the performance, with the audience separated into two designated sections, Weber had created a full-scale conflict. "People were wound up, people were pissed off, ripping down fliers, yelling at each other." Weber says. Very Good/Bad.

 

The two most frequent musical contributors to Good/Bad are Denton's John "Corn Mo" Cunningham and John Freeman (Dooms U.K., The Meat Helmets, et al.). Theirs is a separate-but-equal bizarro cabaret, smacking of Kurt Weill theatrics and old-school metal, and always unflinchingly tongue-in-cheek. Weber, and Good/Bad, felt that a New York debut wouldn't be complete without them.

So, like the sculptures Good/Bad Denton made for "Joey," Cunningham and Freeman would be transported to New York to be part of the show. A show that would come together, if at all, only hours before its opening.


Friday, July 2. ABC No Rio 9:00 p.m.: A crowd swells outside No Rio while waiting to file into an already packed gallery. Once inside, patrons politely find their elbow room while confronted by an animatronic kangaroo lying on a scaled-down hospital bed in a sterile intensive care unit -- intravenous drip in progress as Joey warbles the delirious tale of how he ended up here. His tone squeaks with memory: his affection for his drug-dealing mother, who toted him in her pouch alongside her stash of pot. The audience watches as he writhes in anguish, his mouth moving along with the pre-recorded story of how he was evicted from the pouch when his mom headed off to seek fortune in the big city.

Dotted throughout are the visual touchstones of Joey's tale. Over here is the stagecoach that the lonely Joey hopes will take him to find his deserting mother. Joey's pal Maple, a jackalope, has volunteered to pull it. Only the coach is battered, its wheels scattered, and a terrified Maple cowers in her leather harness, one eye missing and paws dripping with blood. The injury is the result of a vicious ambush by the territorial Rondo Indians. They used ingenious weapons: Mounted on the opposite wall are twin Rondo-can-launcher guns disguised as thick tree limbs. The putrid yellow cans peek out of the gun barrels in ominous threat, still pointed toward the coach.

But Joey, left for dead, was rescued by some of his mother's clients, the Knights of the Drum Circle, who take him to an emergency room in hopes that he'll recover. Adjacent to the can-launchers is a giant photo-mural of the Knights, clad in cyber gear and surrounded by electronic drum machines.

Nearby, a hole in the floor reveals a tangle of poles and plastic; music wafts up through it. Descending the stairs, the viewer finds the source of this music in the basement. There, a giant teepee constructed of woven plastic six-pack can holders, with impossibly elongated Rondo cans for poles, glows with the light of the TV monitor inside. The screen, framed by a steel "dream catcher" embellished with feathers, shows a video loop of a "Rondo" thirst-quenching commercial, starring two naked, mud-caked Indians who canoe, wrestle, and generally run amok. Across this dim and humid subterranean room near the stage, a switchboard beckons viewers to step up and make a selection from a list; hit a button and either John Freeman or John Cunningham emerges from the shadows to regale the crowd with the chosen song about Joey's confounding adventure. The musicians are wide-eyed and robotic, animatronic like Joey, delivering brief tunes with illuminating titles like "I Just Bought a Joint (From the Pouch of a Kangaroo)."

The crowd spills out of the damp, close heat into the openness of the back yard, and there, a massive fireworks display, upended and wedged on the fence as if wrecked by a descent to earth, sits abandoned. This is part of Joey's delirium-induced dream; in the white glow of the I.C.U., the kangaroo has hallucinated a gold-miner who sells meatballs from a deserted fireworks booth. Above the wreckage, on an outdoor wall, is projected a silent film showing a serene man wearing suspenders and an old dusty miner's cap, floating through outer space. Stars twinkle around him as he sautés meatballs for unseen customers. The 49er embodies goodwill, abandonment, getting lost -- epitomizing Joey and his ill-fated journey.

The gallery looks surprisingly neat, and in some places, like Joey's hospital space, downright pristine. Walls are pale and smooth, lighting is clear and bright. The heat is bothersome, but drops off a bit with nightfall.

Clusters of patrons mill about, stopping to gaze at each element, piecing together the events of Joey's story. Beer and conversation flow, and you can play spot the Good/Bad member by keeping an eye out for the most exhausted-looking people in the place. But it doesn't take the brain of an art theorist to figure the symbolic parallels between Joey's adventure and Good/Bad itself. For Joey, setting out to search for mom has been one hell of a ride. For these artists and their stoic supporters, taking on Manhattan has been one hell of an adventure.

 

And a hell of a successful night. The pieces are finished and amazing, and an estimated 300 people filed through the venue between 8 p.m. and midnight. The biggest snag in the show was the difficulty in hearing Joey spout his story over the din of the crowd. Impatient viewers would move on from Joey and leave themselves piecing together the convoluted concepts without a map; the attentive had better luck. Still, Good/Bad's members stress the importance of subjectivity; they don't want to tell a viewer what to cull from the show.

At best, a patron gets the whole gist: the fear and trials of growing up, of striking out, of confronting the fears and obstacles of adulthood and independence, of having dreams and delusions, of not knowing how life ends. At worst, a patron witnesses the group's technical prowess and an absurd thread connecting a handful of beautifully made art objects. Granted, this show is more object-oriented than much of Good/Bad's work, more like a standard gallery opening. This could, however, be a play to New York's shiny side, a way to slide in under the door of convention. But more likely it's a symptom of overcoming long distance and the melding of two factions into something tangible.

Either way, the New York gods were smiling -- or grinning, at least. Though the show wasn't covered by New York press (and won't be; the collective hauled off all signs of it the next morning), it's rumored that some of the event's patrons were gallerists. Several noted New York musicians were in attendance (God Is My Co-Pilot's founder took root by the music switchboard all night).

Earlier in the day, Weber had donned a kangaroo pouch and handed out "Joey" fliers at a crowded P.S. 1, New York's largest, edgiest contemporary art space. The day after the show, when Good/Badders went back to P.S. 1, employees of the space recognized and congratulated them.

Granted, these are just seeds, but crucial seeds in Good/Bad's New York odyssey.

For the time being, however, the Brooklyn contingent has its hands and brains full with a new space, a burgeoning New York membership, and a ripening fall/winter schedule.

"Our first benefit is scheduled for mid-August," Chris Weber says. "World/Inferno Friendship Society will headline." (This is Dan Bailey's 10-piece "vaudeville punk" band, an event in itself.) "Then, hopefully, in September we'll throw an opening party, something that combines all we do. We'll do something for Halloween, of course -- Good/Bad always does. We'll have a show in November, not so much a members' show as a show for all the contributors who've helped out so far, and a members' show in January." Beyond that, there's talk of applying for grants, applying for nonprofit status. And the collective's Web site is up and running (goodbad.org).

In the days following the ABC opening, Good/Bad's members in both Denton and Brooklyn were still high on the wave of "Joey" -- they consider it an inarguable success -- but caution creeps back into their tones when they speak of the long-term horizon. This is, after all, New York.

Martin Iles sums it up: "'Joey' -- both the show and the character -- more than anything, it symbolizes Good/Bad, this transition we're making. You root for Joey, and you have no idea if he'll pull through." He pauses for a beat. "But he probably will."


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