On November 7th, MoMA opened the 2015 installment of its annual New Photography exhibition. The show focusses on how photography is serialized through digital devices and the politics involved in this process of material abstraction. The exhibition features works by nineteen international photographers, including the Angolan artist Edson Chagas, Czech born Zbyněk Baladrán and New York based Italian, Lele Saveri.
In honor of New Photography’s 30th anniversary, MoMA has expanded the show’s viewing space to encompass all three rooms of its photo gallery. Discretely situated in a corner at the end of the exhibition is a recreation of an underground magazine kiosk. This installation is a re-staging of the project space that was simply known as The Newsstand.
Originally located in an abandoned storefront at the intersection of the Lorimer and Metropolitan subway stations in Brooklyn, The Newsstand primarily sold self-published books that had been made on xerox machines, publications that have come to be known as zines. For artists such as Newsstand contributor Peter Sutherland, zines are a tangible tool with which young artists may begin to navigate the inscrutable world of art. As he describes:
“For years my work only lived in books and zines. It was an entry point, but it has become something I’ve continued to do for the past 15 years. Zines are not really about money so it’s sort of liberating. They’re affordable art artifacts. Their value comes from a young kid’s ability to make a great zine and have people get a sense of their work, or that you can possess images by a famous artist for not much money. But zines only have value to the people that want them, it’s like the idea of a ‘fan zine’, you probably only want it if you’re really a fan. I don’t usually buy them, I only do trades, so there is a very personal element that is always there.”- Peter.
“I do something because I love to do it, no matter what the sacrifice. I think the real concern is whether you’re genuine or not.” - Nathaniel
The MoMA iteration of The Newsstand remains faithful to the original model and display copies of all the zines and ephemera that were included in the Lorimer-Metropolitan space. These are available for visitors to peruse, just as passers-by did during spare moments in the subway station. The stand is maintained by many of the same volunteer sales clerks, including the artists and photographers Nick Sethi, Nathaniel Matthews and Yoma Ru, all of whom contributed their work to the project.
The Newsstand was instigated by Kevin Kearney and Jamie Falkowski of Alldayeveryday. Walking through the subway one evening in 2012, they passed an empty shop, upon which Falkowski made the offhand statement, “Man today sucks. Sometimes I wish I could just quit my job and open a magazine stand.” While this was meant as a joke, Kearney recognized the potential for the location to act as host to an Allday original project. A creative space within a commuter thoroughfare had the capacity to become a truly populist endeavor, accessible to an audience that spanned beyond the confines of the young downtown art community. Allday presented the idea to Lele Saveri, who was winding down from running the 8-Ball zine fair, an event which had come about in his generous efforts to help the owner of Grand Billiards, a pool hall in Bushwick, save his failing business. Kearney and Falkowski suggested Lele contribute to the vision of The Newsstand. Everyone agreed to try the idea out for a month. As a result of the enthusiasm with which the project was met, The Newsstand ran from June 2013 - January 2014.
For photographer Yoma Ru, the space helped her not only to navigate her artistic practice but New York itself. As she describes, “When I first moved to New York, my daily schedule mainly consisted of looking for jobs and visiting The Newsstand. It was like going to Graceland. Whenever they posted pictures of [Nick] Sethi's or Natboy's new zines, I rushed over because I was afraid they would sell out.”
Both Allday and 8-Ball began as a series of creative endeavors among friends. Throughout their development, they have continued to resist definition, operating in a nebulous space between formal projects and spontaneous happenings. Within this space there appears to be a central focus, whereby something is being created and intuitively curated through parallel activities. What drives their actions however is not necessarily profit or self-promotion. With these projects, the desired goal is often simply to see an idea such as The Newsstand manifest through an organic communal process.
In preparation for The Newsstand, Lele Saveri followed the format of the original zine fair and held a “drop-off” event, where anyone could bring material of any kind to be sold in the space. He decided to keep one copy of everything, which he archived in a crate ironically labeled “MoMA Retrospective.” What was collected spanned a vast range of self-made goods. As Saveri recounts:
“Anybody that would make a t-shirt, that would make a pin, that would write a book about poetry... There was even a guy that made incense. Anything that people would do, I would take in and sell. That thing made everybody feel like they were a part of it. They would go up to someone and say, ‘I have stuff in there.’” - Lele.
Whether for the sake of leisure or political change, culture itself may be defined by the instinctive need to create and share. Our capacity to speak defines us as people and inspires us to collaborate. In our desire to work together, there is a will to create something greater than ourselves. When such efforts work towards inclusion as with The Newsstand, the potential for collective identity begins to broaden beyond the exclusive group mentality by which they are typically defined. Organic communities are created through their common interests, as the saying goes, “birds of a feather flock together.” More so than any network, it is that beast known as the Manhattan subway system that constitutes the collective experience of New Yorkers. And in its inner tunnels, we all become birds of a feather.