The Strange World of Neke Carson: Early Works, 1970–85

By Marc H. Miller

When Neke Carson moved to New York in 1969 after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design he exemplified a new type of artist schooled in the cerebral conceptualism of Marcel Duchamp and inspired by Andy Warhol’s expansion of Pop Art into film and multi-media events. Carson quickly established himself as a conspicuous participant in the Fluxus-infused downtown scene where distinctions between art and life, and the separation between performing and object making, were often blurred.  Although he was primarily a performance artist, Carson also exhibited objects in galleries. Equally important was his realization that newspapers and magazines provided a new alternative venue through which ideas could be communicated and audiences expanded.

This online exhibition is devoted exclusively to Carson’s early art from 1970 to 1985, the period in which he first established himself as one of the art world’s original thinkers. It is a show filled with unusual masterpieces: psychologically-charged drawings that hint at impropriety; ephemera from guerrilla performances staged in Soho galleries without permission; the notorious rectal-realist paintings created with a paintbrush in his behind; and objects connected with ventures like Carson’s LaRocka Modeling Agency and LaRocka Nite Club (later Armageddon) that functioned both as performance art and real-life business. The works display Carson’s entirely individual take on things, his sense of style and humor, and the transgressive streak that has always kept him a little on the outside.

Gallery 98 is offering some of the best items from this early phase of Carson’s ongoing forty-year career. It is a challenging legacy not only because of the content of the works, but also because of the rarity of the objects due to a devastating fire in 1984 that destroyed much of Carson’s  early work. Sometimes a printed announcement is all that remains from an important performance. There exist now only a few drawings from these years and their intent is not aesthetic but as expressions of ideas. What survives is an intriguing and unfamiliar body of work that establishes Carson as one of the most interesting artists to emerge in the 1970s, a decade dominated by performance, conceptual and neo-Dada art. And Carson continues to be active. For the last twelve years he has been organizing performance events at the Gershwin Hotel in New York; in 2008 he had an exhibition at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; and in 2009 he showed new photography at John McWhinnie @ Glenn Horowitz Booksellers, NYC.

“You can’t reach me at my other number… my house burned down.” Message left by Neke Carson on the telephone answering machine of Marc Miller, 1984

Neke Carson and his wife Eileen
Neke Carson and his wife Eileen soon after arriving in New York, 1969. Photograph by Jamie Andrews.
“You can't reach me at my other house burned down.” Message left by Neke Carson on the telephone answering machine of Marc Miller, 1984

From the Collection