Printed Matter, Inc. is pleased to announce the exhibition A Show about Colab (and Related Activities), which runs from October 15 through November 30, 2011. This overarching survey will present a wide range of materials and artworks from various Colab activities from the late 1970’s through the mid 1980’s, including screenings of film and video works, and cable broadcasts. The exhibition also features works and material from other related groups, collectives and projects.

While Colab helped launch the careers of artists such as Jenny Holzer, Tom Otterness and Kiki Smith (artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Jack Smith participated in Colab exhibitions and events), the group remains an under-explored and appreciated phenomenon in the cultural history of New York City.

Formed in 1978, Collaborative Projects, Inc. – aka Colab – was initially created as a means to seek new venues for the creation and exhibition of work made through collaborative artists’ efforts. With a membership drawn mainly from New York City’s downtown artist community, Colab was able to harness recently established funding for the arts from federal and state agencies to support a myriad of artists’ projects from and for that extended community. Part collective, part platform and part agency, Colab did not have a fixed identity or function. Indeed what set it apart from most of the other art nonprofits of the time was that instead of duplicating the bureaucratic structure of corporations, Colab’s inclusiveness (meetings and memberships were open, and officers rotated annually) and nomadism (they were not tied to a specific space) engendered a decidedly anti-bureaucratic mode of operation and experience. Propelled by creative brilliance – and strong convictions and personalities alike – Collaborative Projects reflected the energy, the creativity, and the chaos of that iconic period of NYC in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

A Show About Colab (and Related Activities) is designed to serve as an homage to that experiment and experience in artistic collaborations, but one which is instructive to the current state of art and politics. Presenting a huge array of material including ephemera, posters, flyers, handbills, meeting announcements and agendas, prints, multiples, artworks, film, video and more, this exhibition will follow the various exploits of Colab as well as related artists groups and projects that either preceded or branched out from Colab.

Featured Colab projects will be “X-Magazine”; the “Real Estate Show”; The “Times Square Show”; the “cable TV shows”, “All Color News”, “Potato Wolf” and “Red Curtain”; the “A. More Store” and “Christmas Stores”. And there will also be artworks, ephemera and artifacts from related and overlapping communities and projects: Send/Receive and Qwips from the Center for New Art Activities; the pre and early Colab exhibitions including the “Batman Show”, the “Income & Wealth Show” and the “Manifesto Show”; “Fashion Moda”; “The Offices of Fend”, “Fitzgibbon”, “Holzer”, “Nadin”, “Prince and Winters”; “Just Another Asshole”; “Ocean Earth”; the “New Cinema”; “ABC No Rio”; the “Cave Girls”; the “Cardboard Band”; “Spanner”; “M-W-F Video”, and much more. In addition there will be an array of artists’ books and publications by members of Colab.

Printed Matter also has historical ties to Colab, not only as part of the same interwoven community, but also as host to one of the A. More stores and as co-producer of Art Direct, a mail-order art initiative the two organizations collaborated on. “Printed Matter and Colab were both deeply invested in the creation of a grass roots, artist driven, alternative economy for artistic production and distribution”, notes the exhibition’s curator, Max Schumann.

Colab was incubated out of the debris of New York City’s financial collapse. This was soon followed by the election of Ronald Reagan and the beginnings of a social policy of austerity coupled with an economic policy of unfettered capitalism – all sold under the guise of a rose-hued American mythology. The artistic fervor which characterized Colab ran concurrent with the cultural shift which produced the punk, no-wave and hip-hop subcultures (Colab had a foot in all those doors). While there is a sense of political desperation and nihilism in much of the work – along with healthy doses of sarcasm and irony ­– the Colab generation (most of the artists were in their twenties) were acutely aware that the dream was a lie, and sensed that the Empire was beginning to unravel. As the historical connections of our present predicaments to that period become ever more clear, the directness and urgency of Colab’s many voices, the DIY ethic of necessity, and the carnival-like spirit of resistance and play stand as a model (or maybe better, an anti-model) for the political and cultural struggles of today.