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AN UNCONVENTIONAL GUY
To Gary Azon (1949-2007)
It is the task of the living to nourish the present with the past, such as to preserve and give credit to our predecessors who initiated new forays into art or documented the art and artists of a period. Gary Azon’s keen eyes, combined with his nerviness, transmitted such an era, which can help provide a tonic of the present malaise in our culture and political climate. He was a bright light who documented the period with camera and pen. His best work and techniques can be seen in the many black and white photos he developed in his own dark room. In these Azon probes the real world in photos and essays, evincing a loyalty, as well as a critique of the 80’s art world with its rough edges and hypocrisy.
His photos sometimes dramatizes the social and political upheavals and disparities, such those of 41 Poets demonstrating on the steps of City Hall against the shooting of Amadou Diallo. They focus on both luminaries, like Allen Ginsberg, and street people, squalor beside gentrification, and include Taylor Mead, Keith Haring, an unidentified man in a wheelchair, Andy Warhol, and a dead bird. Azon’s striking photos of elderly black men in wheelchairs and homeless sleeping on stained mattresses on Avenue A evoke the 80’s in stark greys and blacks, depicting artist of privilege beside artists of conscience.
An unconventional guy, Azon, a multitalented award-winning art columnist and journalist, died at home in our Brooklyn apartment where we lived together for over twenty five years. He was a man for all seasons: artist, activist, photographer, art critic and journalist. His photographs were published in The London Times, GQ, Vogue, Vanity fair, The Village VOICE, and many other magazines. They have also been anthologized in Semiotext and appear in FIRE IN THE BELLY, The Life And Times of David Wojnarowicz, a biography by Cynthia Carr. In 1990 he was awarded a prize by Manufacturers Hanover trust for article on Robert Mapplethorpe and his controversial homo-erotic photographs.
Gary was the art editor for DOWNTWON, a lower east side newspaper, for ten years, from 1986-1996, for whom he wrote an art column, “Art Around Town”, that published weekly and gave visibility to a plethora of local artists and galleries. He showed his own work as well, at many NYC galleries, including Foster Goldstrom in Soho. Last year his photographs were included in a retrospective of the 70’s and 80’s, curated by Anthony Haden-Guest at White Box on Broome Street.
“Gary was amazing,” says Penny Arcade. And Phoebe Legered scribes Gary’s passing as “a profound loss for our community. His east village photographs of grace mansion and others were published in A DEFINITIVE HISTORY OF FIVE OR SIX YEARS ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE by Sylvere Lottinger for Semiotext. Gary also helped me coordinate readings at ABC No Rio, an alternative art space and The Living Theater in the 80’s, as well as readings in Sag Harbor (Canio’s Books and Poetry On The Bay)
Gary Azon admired Andy Warhol. Both died in February, Gary at 57, Andy at 58. Like Warhol he was able to use his detached eye to zoom in on the art scene to investigate the world and culture. Whether curating art shows, moderating art panels, featuring such notables as Lucy Lippard, writing a regular art column, or taking photos, Gary was always hip to the latest trends in the counterculture. He ran uptown and downtown photographing people and art on sidewalks and in galleries and museums. If there as an important moment to capture Gary was there to capture it. He both demonstrated and photographed the Tompkins Square Riots and people such as Arthur Danto, Karen Finley, Allen Ginberg and Annie Sprinkle.
For Gary was an activist and something of a historian. He was present at the original Woodstock, taking photos and photographs of Bob Dylan backstage. He and I marched together protesting the ousting of the homeless for Tompkins Square Park in 1989, and together was organized 41 Poets, a reading on the steps of City Hall, in protest of the shooting of Amadou Diallo, which set a precedent by being the first poetry reading to be held there. Judith Malina, Enid Dame, Hanon Reznikov, Donald Lev and Karen Malpede were among the readers.
Gary and I lived together for 25 years, over which time we went to museums, clubs and galleries, as he covered the art scene. In the 80’s we frequented the many galleries that dotted the area, such as Gracie Mansion, Civilian Warfare, Fun Gallery, Pat Hearn, Sensory Evolution, etc, where artists such as Keith Haring, David Wojnarovicz and Mark Kostabi showed work.
I met Gary in 1982 at St. Clements Church, where he photographed me after a benefit for THE HELEN REVIEW, a literary magazine I co-edited. There were performances by Spaulding Grey, Quincy Troupe and Gerard Malanga, among other and comedy sketches from “Gorilla Kisses”, a comedy revue written by Carol Polcovar and myself. Shortly after the benefit we had lunch and he gave me the photos he’d taken of me. We were together ever since, until I discovered his body in our Brooklyn home.
Our romance and relationship, both professional and personal, began then in 1982, and blossomed into what would for him be a lifetime one. Over that period we went to many trendy clubs and underground spots, such as Cave Canem, Limelight, Danceteria, Area, The Tunnel and Kamikaze. He and I both did some writing for the East Village Eye and then wrote a column for Downtown, while I ran the poetry section and yearly poetry contests.
Despite his relatively short life he was a dedicated and highly prolific artist, amassing an huge collection of photographs and writings. I remember the BAD Museum Show (Bohemia After Dark), run in part by artist Chris Chambers, which Gary coordinated. A key component was the glittering all-star critics panel he assembled to discussed ‘”The End of Art” inspired by a book by Arthur Danto, art critic for The Nation. The B. A. D. museum was located at 265 Bowery. The panel met in October, 1987, and included Lucy Lippard, Eleanor Heartney, Peter Frank, Robert Costa, and artist Mark Kostabi. Azon hosted. In a Duchampian stunt, Kostabi chose Joachim Neugroschel to play him. This led to much loud verbal jousting, with clever jabs and repostes flying like English arrows against the French at the historical battle of Agincourt. Though the stock market had fallen 500 points on the day of the critics’ panel, nothing so cataclysmic happened at the discussion that night, and overall a good time was had by all. A spiffy booklet with essays by each of the panelists was published by COLAB. A copy is part of MOMA’s permanent collection.
Gary Azon died of a heart attack complicated by Diabetes on February 11, 2007. With his passing another door closed on the end of an era he documented. When I arrived home on February 11th, I found his lifeless body. He appeared to be watching jay leno. His photographs were scheduled to be shown at CVB Gallery in the trendy meatpacking district, as part of the ‘Andy Warhol, In His Wake” show, commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Warhol’s death. The show was to open the following week on February 22nd.
Azon admired Warhol and considered him the greatest artist of the 20th century after Picasso, for taking the art world in a new direction. With Gary gone, I framed three of his photographs, including one of Taylor Mead, accompanied by a poem called “Money’ I’d written, as well as a photo of performance artist Angela Idealism, and one of Zelda Kaplan, a ninety year old scenester. An article about the show appeared in THE VILLAGER’s February 28, 2007 issue, titled “Warhol Wake Becomes A Fabulous Factory Happening.” In the article, the writer Ed Hamilton, described “Zelda” as a striking photo of an lder woman lifting her skirt, who looks like a decadent Queen Elizabeth i.’
I also dedicated a poem I’d written to Gary, which ends with the line; ‘Farewell Andy, America was your playground, art amigo, and we all watched with wonder, wizard and whore, as you cannibalized the century.” I read the poem at “Five Minutes of Fame”, a reading I organized at the Warhol show. Readers included, Ron Kolm, Hal Sirowitz, and Taylor Mead, one of the original Factory crowd.
Gary Azon’s funeral service as held at Ortiz Funeral Parlor, on 1st Avenue in the East Village. Eleanora Kupencow, among the attendees, called the happening “Performance Funeral. Many art world luminaries and lower east siders attended, including Clayton Patterson, Judith Malina, Penny Arcade, Hanon Reznikov and Taylor Mead, who read from his book and said “I’ve always wantd to read in a funeral parlor.’ Other attendees, shocked by Gary’s sudden passing, were Michael Carter, Stefan Eins, Frank Mann, Peggy CYPHERS, Jim Feast, Steve Dalachinsky and Arleen Schloss, all seated around the room.
Hanon Reznikov said “Gary introduced and connected people. And made things happen.’ Alan MOORE said “A sign that the bohemian art world has passed away. And Phoebe Legere ended the program with a Native American chant.
I think Gary would have loved the event. And yes, he is greatly missed.
From the private permanent collection of Gary Azon
estate of Gary Azon. Dorothy Friedman acting executor