30 Years Later, Revisiting Bobby G’s “Youth of the Lower East Side”

Bobby G's Delancey Street mural, 1984.
Bobby G's Delancey Street mural, 1984.
Bobby G’s Delancey Street mural, 1984.

The Essex Crossing development project is obviously changing the neighborhood in dramatic ways. A current show at the Hionas Gallery recalls a time, three decades ago, when the former urban renewal site was targeted not for redevelopment — but for radical art.

The longtime East Village artist, Robert Goldman (aka Bobby G), was a co-founder of the activist arts organization ABC No Rio. He was one of the instigators of The Real Estate Show in 1979, in which artists took over a padlocked Delancey Street building to make a statement about the city’s pro-developer policies.

“At No Rio in those early years,” Peter Hionas explains, “(Goldman) engaged the local youth. He had discussions, drawing parties, made videos, and painted their portraits…”  Last month, the Crown Heights Gallery (it was formerly located on the Lower East Side), debuted Bobby G: 1984. It includes individual paintings based on a 50-foot mural painted on an abandoned building at Delancey and Suffolk streets (now Essex Crossing site 3, which is under construction).

Here’s more from the press release:

1984 comprises a selection of works from Bobby G’s acclaimed “Youth of the Lower East Side” portrait series, painted in the early 1980s. The seemingly stoic subjects are most notable for the artist’s use of a thin solution of silver radiator paint, which frames the postured contours of his figures then drips downward with abandon, lending each standalone portrait a vibrancy and gravitas. This is the first time in more than 30 years these works have been exhibited in public.

Back in 2014, the Lower East Side’s James Fuentes Gallery organized a group exhibition centered on the Real Estate Show. You can read about that here.  ABC No Rio is working towards constructing a new building at 156 Rivington St., a site that it has occupied since 1980. The organization’s decaying tenement was demolished early last year.

The show at the Hionas Gallery Backroom is open through the end of the month (Saturdays only).

Photo by Ian Dryden.
Photo by Ian Dryden.