The multimedia exhibition New York, New Music: 1980-1986 opens at the Museum of the City of New York in “El Barrio” East Harlem on Friday, June 11, 2021. mcny.org
After peaking in power and influence in the 1950s, social change, civil unrest, the pull of the suburbs, the building of the Cross Bronx Expressway, and the development of public housing put New York City into a long decline that hit bottom in the Blackout of the summer of 1977.
The City was dirty and scary then. But you know what grows in dirt – flowers. New York always bounces back. The rebound of the 1980s spread the sounds of New York City all over the world. New York’s Black, Latin, LGBTQ+ and Anglo communities all got busy together creating new jazz, salsa, hip-hop, disco, and punk music. We are certain it is going to happen again.
New York New Music 1980-1986
August 1, 2021 is the 40th anniversary of MTV’s founding in New York City. Remember that? It was revolutionary at the time and spread New York youth culture across the U.S. and around the world.
If you came of age in the 1970s or 80s, or just think that time was cool, you will love this exhibition. It’s a greatest hits of the era.
From the Latin world there is Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco, Willie Colón, and Héctor Lavoe. That’s Fania, the Latin Motown. There’s also Tito Puente.
From the jazz world there is Miles Davis and a very young Wynton Marsalis (founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center).
From the hip-hop world, there is the Cold Crush Brothers, Grandmaster Flash, Fab 5 Freddy, Kurtis Blow, Run DMC and LL Cool J.
From the punk world there is Joey Ramone, Debbie Harry, Talking Heads, Cyndi Lauper, Lydia Lunch, and James Chance.
From the art world there is Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Laurie Anderson.
From the disco world there is the legendary house club Paradise Garage, DJ Larry Levan and Madonna of course.
All these worlds coexisted in New York City once upon a time. They were documented by some now legendary photographers including two generations of outstanding Latin artists.
One was the Nuyorican movement’s surrealist Adál Maldonado (1948-2020). Back in the day, Adál co-founded Foto Gallery in SoHo. We think it might have been one of New York’s first Latin photography galleries. Adál is one of the artists who taught Robert Mapplethorpe to process and print film. In New York and Puerto Rico, he made several series that are a who’s who of stars in the Latin world. We knew his work from “Falling Eyelids: A Foto Novela” (1979).
Adál Lives. He is our Puerto Rican padrino (godfather). We thought of him today and reached out to the manager of his estate, art dealer Roberto Paradise who immediately pointed us to this show. Like we said, Adál Lives! He is here.
There’s the work of hip-hop photographer Joe Conzo, Jr. Conzo’s work bridges both the hip-hop and Latin worlds because his dad Joe Conzo, Sr was Tito Puente’s friend from the early days in El Barrio. The Joe Conzo Jr. Archive (cornell.edu) of over 10,000 negatives and prints forms the Cornell Hip Hop Collection at the Cornell University Library.
Connecting the Past, Present and Future
Hard times produce rich culture and history repeats itself. This exhibition looks back 40 years into the past to New York’s rebound from the 1970s.
The recent hard time of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed huge cracks in the way we live and work. New Yorkers suffered a lot, but as the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi once said, “the wound is the place where the light enters you.”
Forty years from now, we are certain that the Museum of the City of New York will host another exhibition looking back to the 2020s. We don’t know yet what will be in that show, but are certain that a new generation of artists is lighting it up from the sidewalks of New York.
See you at New York New Music 1980-1986.