June 17, 2021 – June 29, 2021

The Museum of Modern Art

Canadian-born multimedia artist and writer Clayton Patterson has lived through, and broadly documented, more of outsider culture and the evolving history of New York’s Lower East Side than anyone else of his generation. The virtually unseen archive of VHS and 8mm videos he shot there between 1986 and 2001 numbers over 2,000 tapes of astonishing diversity. Whether recording the underground culture of drag performers and tattoo artists; hardcore music venues and gallery openings; the lives of Hispanic and Orthodox Jewish residents and the homeless; public meetings, political demonstrations, and police activity; or the destructive transformation of his neighborhood through gentrification, Patterson used the moving image to build a sense of community among the people he engaged with. Always resolutely on the fringe, as a videographer he is best known for recording the battle between New York City police and protesters in the streets around Tompkins Square Park on the night of August 6, 1988, an event that led to multiple court appearances and appearances with Oprah and others on the talk show circuit.

The works in this program—all being presented in premiere screenings—were shot with a consumer model Panasonic AG 155 VHS camera Patterson purchased in late 1986.

The 3 films in this program include:

February 7, 1987. [“Whispers” evening at the Pyramid].

Approx 60 min.

In the mid-1980’s, Patterson observed that “like tattoos, drag was still outside and underground;” and being sensitive to all things creative on the scene, he saw “the makeup and outfits as art works”. The tape opens with Patterson’s friend, drag performer and costume designer Peter Sun PK Kwaloff and his frequent partner Gerard “Mr. Fashion” Little prepping for a performance, followed by famed drag host and producer Hapi Phace introducing a raucous act by downtown legends Keenan Raves, Tabboo!, and Wendy Wild.

June 28, 1988. [ACT-UP protest ‘ Flag Burning Press Conference, Part 1]

Approx. 60 min.

Shot less than two months before the notorious Tompkins Square Police Riot that would permanently alter Patterson’s notion of the camera as a political tool, the tape demonstrates his skillful management of relations with New York law enforcement. Proving his maxim “first to arrive, last to leave, this start to finish recording of a well-coordinated demonstration by queer activists for housing rights is an example of the conversational style of engagement with characterizes much of Patterson’s work. The tape concludes with one of Patterson’s video sub-genres: the public hearing. Here flag-burning defendant Gregory Lee “Joey” Johnson, his attorney William Kunstler and members of the American Communist Party and the Radical Faeries make position statements.

April 17, 1989. [On location with Jack Smith for Shadows in the City]

Approx. 60 min.

With Ari Roussimoff, Uzi Parnes, Vincent Manes, and John Forgione. Patterson served as art director on Roussimoff’s independent feature Shadows in the City (1991). This tape follows Roussimoff and his small production crew along transitioning Lower East Side streets in search of readymade locations, and poignantly documents the performance practice of artist Jack Smith (1932-1989), as he takes on “the Spirit of Death,” just months before his passing of AIDS related complications.

Organized by Ron Magliozzi, Curator, Department of Film

Film at MoMA is made possible by CHANEL.

Additional support is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by Debra and Leon D. Black and by Steven Tisch, with major contributions from The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art, the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, Karen and Gary Winnick, and The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston.