As an homage to the past and future Alphabet City Soup shows, here is an interview with Mr. Ethan Minsker, man and superman. A filmmaker, writer and artist, and co-founder of the Antagonist Art Movement, located in the East Village of New York City, Ethan was born in Boston, Massachusetts and grew up in Washington, DC. He has lived in New York City since 1988. Ethan is an honors graduate from the School of Visual Arts and holds a Masters Degree in Media from the New School. He has a number of films to his credit; This is Berlin Not New York is his most recent film. Ethan has also written original screenplays and is now working on two memoirs. He is married to Miss Un Lee.
On February 27, 2009, Yoshitomo Nara, one of Japan’s top artists was arrested for drawing on the walls of a New York subway station. Nara’s paintings can sell for over one million dollars. Shortly before his arrest, he was at Niagara, a bar in New York’s East Village, as a guest of the Antagonist Art Movement. He was attending a regular Thursday night art show sponsored by the Antagonist Art Movement that featured six new artists. Nara was given markers by Niagara’s owner and told that, if he wished, he was welcome to draw something on the bar walls. Nara covered most of the bar’s walls. Inspired by his work in the bar, he took the markers and kept on drawing on things as he made his way home, up until his arrest. The Antagonist Art Movement is known for inspiring those in its midst to be creative. And this is not the first time someone connected to the Antagonist Art Movement has been arrested. In 2004, two of its members were arrested for putting up stickers with the Antagonist Art Movement logo. Locally, on occasion, the Antagonist Art Movement has been called infamous and sometimes it’s been called an art gang. In reality, little is known about the group.
Q: When did the Antagonist Art Movement begin?
A: In 2000, Anders Olsen, a painter, Sergio Vega, a musician who played in bands such as Quicksand and the Deaftones, and I, Ethan H. Minsker, a filmmaker, writer and artist, started doing art shows with live bands at Niagara bar.
Q: What are you guys all about?
A: It’s a social movement; meaning it’s the connection between friends and their creativity. The name implies that we want to push you to action. How do we do that? We created venues for artists: Monday night is Alphabet City Soup, a variety show, Tuesday is the public access show, Thursday is the one-night art shows and the first Sunday of the month is our writers’ night. The venues bring artists of all types together. They become a part of this scene. They develop and sometimes create something new. People have asked what style of art we do. It’s not one type or one style of art but a theory that we can make an environment that fosters creativity and originality. As Nietzche would say, “nothing is ugly but degenerate man”. Clearly, some of the influences are from the Andy Warhol factory. Not Warhol‘s art but the place where films, music, and art of all types was produced. Or the beatnik writers; not their writings, but their connections among friends.
Q: Tell me about some of the artists you’ve worked with?
A: Sumner Dilworth is a photographer that showed with us and did cover art for our fanzine Psycho Moto. I took the magazine with his photos over to friends at Harris Publishing and told them that I believed in his art. They called him in and hired him. Now he has worked on everything, from the rock magazines to the New York Times. Jonah Hill, who is in movies such as Superbad, Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, was discovered at our writers’ nights. The first time he came in and did his standup routine, he was great so we asked him to come back every week, pushing him to explore his potential. If they ever let him write a movie, I’m sure it will be funnier than anything he has appeared in to date. Currently we are working with a number of artists like James Rubio, Un Lee, Brett Farkas, and the band Schocholautte. Michael H. Houghton is a designer who has worked with the Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses and just about every large rock group there is. He has been taking some of our clothing line and is turning it into Punk Couture. On average, we show seven to eight artists every Thursday and more if you count Mondays and Sundays. We figure we have shown more than 3,000 artists over nine years. It’s at a point now where we find artists that we have worked with are now curators, showing in bigger galleries and so on. As Ted Riederer would tell you, one of the gratifying things about showing new artists every week is that many times we are the first time they have shown publicly. From the artists that show, we select those we would like to help develop. We do that by giving them more shows and bringing them on our out-of-state and over-seas shows. We give them a stream of feedback as well as an audience with which to interact.
Q: What are you hoping for the future of AAM?
A: Personally I try to think of us 30 years in the future and being in a museum as part of a permanent collection. I imagine walking from room to room and seeing our fashions on mannequins, walls covered from floor to ceiling with the work of our artists, displays of our fanzines and the chap books we published, then walking into a room with our films playing. When you hear about these legendary punk shows at CBGB’s where Television, Blondie, the Talking Heads, or Richard Hell played, you might think they were all sold-out shows but the truth is there were like six people. By comparison, we are doing pretty well. But in the meantime, we are working on our next over-seas show which will be held in Lisbon, Portugal. The title of the show is Dolls of Lisbon, which will also be the title of a movie we are shooting. We are making dolls and shipping some over to the Lisbon artists to work on.
Q: Who is the AAM? Who are the Antagonists?
A: It’s a state of mind so anyone who is antagonistic in some way: degenerates, criminals, villains, heroes, artists. But here is a short list: James Rubio, Ted Riederer, Un Lee, Julian Stockdale, Arturo Vega, Anders Olson, Dan Graff, Crispy T, Johnny T, Anthony Ferraro, Mystie Chamberlin, Richard Allen, Brother Mike Cohen, Zeke T, Bryan Middleton, Gabriel CD, Sylvia Ortiz, Lucho, Brett Farkas, Sergio Vega, Michelle Halabura, and I could keep going and going.
Q: Tell me about your recent film, This is Berlin, Not New York.
A: I have watched a lot of art documentaries and the thing I hated about them is that they always have the artist just talking about his art and then cut to images of his art. What I want to see is the personality of the artist. I made a film about artists that really isn’t about their art but about the creation of their art. Like Warhol’s super stars, I want the artist to be the center of the film. Some might watch it and think of it as a home video, but I see it as the love of being an artist and being passionate about what you are doing. Many people who have watched it say it’s inspiring, but the real message is that anyone can be creative and should be. Show art anywhere even if you have to bend the law a little to do it.
Q: What kinds of art do you look for?
A: We have a new gallery that looks great. We love to look at new art of any type. Artists who are interested in showing with us can contact our curators by email at Antagonistart@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. They will want to see our website and send us three jpgs of the art they would like to show with size and a description. Our shows are about the community of artists. We sometimes do sell art but it’s not our focus. This is why our gallery is unique. We have no overhead. Where most galleries in New York have to pay rent and staff, we don’t. If we sell art, we take 30%, which goes right back to promoting artists or creating art. We don’t pick art based on if it will sell. We are interested in the integrity of the work and the artists themselves. We have shown artists from around the world, but definitely favor the locals. If you are an artist out there and have had a hard time finding a place to show, don’t be timid. Contact us.
Q: What one thing do you hope to put across to people who see the AAM shows?
A: Art is exercisable.
Q. How is Niagara Bar connected to the AAM?
A: One of the Antagonists is a part owner of the bar. They provide us with work, a space to show and have put up with our shenanigans for nine years now. It’s our home base. The bar has a great history with the punk rock world. Bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat played their first New York City shows there. Jimmy from Murphy’s Law was a DJ there when he was 13. It was a hangout for the likes of Joe Strummer and Joey Ramone.
Q: How is NYC a good city for this as opposed to another city?
A: People move to New York City following their dream to do something creative. But once they are here, they realize they are caught in a cycle of having to work regular day-jobs in order to pay their rent and other bills, just to live here. There is an army of talented people who want to do something creative. For us, it means art shows, films, publishing our writers, and so on. New York City has a rich history of art movements and artist groups, from punk to pop. NYC has been the center of the art world for more than a hundred years. I can’t see us in any place else.
Q: What are the Antagonist Venues?
A: Alphabet City Soup - Monday nights, 8 pm to 11 pm at Niagara Bar, 112 Ave A, southeast corner of East 7th Street, NYC, 212-420-9517 – variety show
Antagovision- Tuesday nights at 11pm on MNN, Cable Channel 67 or RCN Channel 110, NYC public access TV show
One-night art shows - Thursday nights, 9 pm to 2 am at Niagara Bar, showcase of visual artists
Open mic writers’ night- First Sunday of the Month, 9 pm to 11 pm, Black and White, 86 East 10th Street, NYC
Our clothing line and films can be found at 99x, 84 East 10th Street
Our film, This Is Berlin Not New York, is available for sale on a dozen sites online and at our website, http://antagonistmovement.com.
To find out more about the Antagonist Art Movement or to read our manifesto, go to www.antagovision.com.