Before Punk and Zines: Bay Area Dada

Before Punk and Zines: Bay Area Dada

by John Held, Jr.

Buying art is usually a straight forward proposition. You go to a gallery or artists’ studio, decide on a piece of work you like, and negotiate a price. Monte Cazazza had something different in mind when he conceptualized his 1974 work, One Thousand Dollar Proposition, in which “someone who has enough balls” was willing to play Russian Roulette with one of them. In Cazzazas’ piece, the patron was to put up $1000 for the willing participant, incur all medical and legal expenses, and underwrite the video documentation. Surprisingly enough, there were no takers. But Cazzaza found a home in the Bay Area Dada Group. “I had no friends in San Francisco at the time, but Bill (Gaglione) and Tim (Mancusi) of Bay Area Dada were extremely generous and had a great library.”

The artworld of the early seventies, especially in the Bay Area, was anything but straightforward at its’ margins. In the recent catalog for the Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition, Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979, curator Paul Schimmel writes, “In the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a remarkable generation of artists emerged, including Terry Fox, Paul Cotton, and Howard Fried. These performance artists had difficulty gaining recognition as visual artists who practiced a medium distinct from the region’s long standing tradition of poetry, dance, music, film, and theater.” Many of these artists were supported by Tom Marioni, an influential conceptual artist, who was a curator at the Richmond Art Center from 1968 to 1971, and founder of the Museum of Conceptual Art (“a specialized sculpture/action underground museum”) in 1970.

Setting the stage for this explosion of conceptual and performance art, were over sixty weekly Astronauts of Inner Space columns, in the Dateline section of the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle. Written by Jeff Berner in 1967-68, these articles resulted in a book by the same name covering an international array of avant-garde activity, such as Dada, Group Zero, the situationists, the Vienna Actionist group, visual and concrete poetry, and above all, the Neo-Dada Fluxus artists.

Dada artists, discernible as an active group between 1915 to 1922, experimented with illogical synchronistic approaches to new media (collage, assemblage, photomontage, sound poetry), in contrast to producing defined consumable artworks after years of academic study. Dada began in the burlesque theater of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, Switzerland, spreading to Paris, Berlin, Eastern Europe and New York, where younger artists, such as Marcel Duchamp, Tristan Tzara and Francis Picabia, sought to counterpoint a culture producing the wholesale carnage of WWI.

First active in 1963, Fluxus artists, under the influence of John Cage and the direction of Lithuanian art impresario George Maciunas, were creating happenings and events rending the fabric of the prevailing Abstract Expressionist movement. “There is also a sense of bankruptcy in the avant-garde,” Berner wrote, “but what a delightful and promising bankruptcy it is! Like a pregnant silence…like the edge of a world in transition…like the expression of Twentieth Century man, part animal and part God, but mostly caught in the middle. If the avant-garde is bankrupt (and I’m not too serious when I say that), then it’s going into receivership immediately. In other words, its in your hands.”

Berner began distributing Fluxus multiples, small plastic boxes composed of various artists contributions to a particular theme, to head shops in San Francisco. “The Flux Kits were acid trips you could carry in your pocket” Berner, now a Dillon Beach resident, relates. To place the cultural underground in the hands of others, he began teaching a course, with special attention placed on “happenings, Zen and the psychedelic experience,” at the San Francisco State College Downtown Center in 1967. One of his students was Bill Gaglione.

A former New Yorker, Gaglione was a 24 year old married veteran drawn to San Francisco for many of the same reasons others were flocking to the region. A former student at the School of Visual Arts, whose best friend, Ronnie Cutrone, went on to become Andy Warhols’ primary silkscreen assistant, Gaglione was introduced to the cultural underground through Fluxus performances he witnessed as a teenager. His professor at Visual Arts, painter Joseph Raffeal (who moved to the Bay Area in 1969 to teach at Sacramento State College) introduced him to Ray Johnson, a New York city artist, who had gained an international underground reputation through his innovative artistic and poetic use of the postal system. Gaglione, like many others, fell under his spell, and began corresponding with others in the growing circle of international “mail art.”

Others in the Bay area were also engaged in mail art, including Monte Cazzaza, who participated in Johnsons’ 1970 New York Correspondence School exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art, and Patricia Tavenner, one of the first active female correspondents engaged in the new art medium, and the only women artist included in Czech artist J. H. Kocmans’ influential collection of rubber stamp art, Stamp Activity, published in 1972. Tim Mancusi, Gagliones’ cousin, was also a participant in Johnsons’ Whitney exhibition, and a fledgling cartoonist rooming with fellow long Islander Bill “Zippy the Pinhead” Griffith.

The use of rubber stamps, a portable visual medium associated with the post office, was a hallmark of the emerging mail art network. As such, Bay Area artists were uniquely placed to take advantage of the accessibility of visual rubber stamps by their availability at Patrick & Co., a San Francisco business institution, and one of the few places in the country to sell pictorial rubber stamps. Gaglione began working at Barons Art Supply, nearby to Patricks, and began using them in his mail art correspondence. Gaglione and Steve Caravello initiated the worlds’ first rubber stamp art exhibition in a September1971 display at the Goodman Building, where Gaglione maintained a room previously occupied by Janis Joplin.

It was at Barons that Gaglione met co-workers Charles Chickadel and Steve Caravello, who together with Mancusi, began a series of art pranks. Their first, The Pink Dot Caper, had them stickering commercially available pink dots around San Francisco. “Barons’ had a tremendous overstock of those Avery pink dot stickers that we’d over-ordered,” recalls Gaglione, “so we started giving our friends hundreds of these pink dot sticker packages, and they started appearing all over town.” Unlike the Bay Area conceptual artists, the Dadaists had no showcase for their work in established art settings, taking to the streets in lieu of traditional art venues.

Like the Dada artists, who produced publications reflecting new art attitudes, the emerging Bay Area Dada group was engaged in self-publishing, taking advantage of new affordable print technologies. With photocopy shops yet unborn, Tim Mancusi explains, the publications, “were not photocopied. They were instant printed. Photographic paper plates (as opposed to photographic aluminum plates) wrapped around a printing press drum and was printed with real printers ink. Photocopy means powdered toner drawn to the image area by magnetism. That’s why when you fold a photocopied image the toner crumbles off along the fold line. Ink soaks into the paper.”

With their interest in Dada, Fluxus inspired events, situationist provocation, mail art and rubber stamps, the glue drawing these diverse artists together in the early seventies was their shared interest in self-publishing. Monte Cazzaza edited Nitrous Oxide. Patricia Tavenner published Mail Order Art. Mancusi produced the New York Weekly Breeder. Gaglione introduced Dadazine, and later with Anna Banana, VILE. Chickadel compiled Quoz? and West Bay Dada. Rick Soloway distributed the Nu Art Review. Opel Nations was printing Strange Feces, and Irene Dogmatic published Insult. These were distributed internationally through the mail art network, and locally in music and comix stores.

Thomas Albright, the reigning art critic of The San Francisco Chronicle, wrote in his book, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-1980, that, “Locally, a group known as Dadaland was active in publications and exhibitions involving rubber-stamp works, ‘mail art,’ and mechanically reproduced collages and related forms, most of them devoted to parodying the mass media. The militantly anti-style of such parodistic magazines as File and Vile (take-offs on Life), with their concentration on the bizarre and repulsive, served as a model for many of the publications that grew up around the New Wave scene later in the 1970s.”

Dadaland was a pseudonym Gaglione often assumed. And although Albright was correct in stating that the publications the group produced served as a model for other zines later in the decade, it was punk that picked up on their style, not New Wave. For his avoidance and ignorance of the groups’ intent, the Chronicle critic was often the butt of the groups jokes. In their group photo of 1975, they labeled a parking meter with his name. Gaglione and Mancusi also interrupted an Art Institute lecture given by Albright and Dada expert Arturo Schwartz dressed as the Da Da Brothers.

But, in a way, Albright got it right. Bay Area Dada was Dadaland. Gaglione was the thread that wove these disparate elements together, much as George Maciunas gathered the underground of New York and Europe, and through shear force of personality, willed Fluxus into being. The key partnerships Gaglione formed in the next decade mirrored the direction of the Bay Area Dada group would travel. His editorship of The New York Weekly Breeder with cousin Tim Mancusi marked the first major phase of publishing and rubber stamp activity. When Anna Banana, the “Town Fool” of Vancouver, Canada, moved to San Francisco in 1972, eventually marrying Gaglione, performance shared equal billing with publishing, becoming slicker and grant supported. A performance partnership with Marlon Rocola and Buster Cleveland in the late seventies continued his long association with performance. Finally, his 1980 marriage to Darlene Domel began a partnership resulting in Stamp Francisco Rubber Stamps and The Stamp Art Gallery, lasting well into the nineties.

The first time the phrase Bay Area Dadaist appeared was in the first Bay Area issue of The New York Weekly Breeder. Spoofing both Ray Johnsons’ New York Correspondance (sic) School and the public school distributed Weekly Reader, Fluxus artist Ken Friedman began publishing a two-sheet newsletter in 1971, resulting in an address list fueling much of the avant-garde international activity in the early seventies.

Mancusi, writing with hindsight on the history of The NYCS Weekly Breeder in 1981, stated that, “In 1972 Ken Friedman asked Stu Horn to edit the Breeder. The Breeder at this point was making use more and more of collage. Later that year, before Stu left for Europe, he asked me to edit The Weekly Breeder, which I did (along with Bill Gaglione) until Fall 1974, when The Very Last Weekly Breeder was published. It was during this period that The Weekly Breeder served as a model for the numerous other ‘dadazines’ that soon blossomed around the country. In looking over these pages one should keep in mind that they predate today’s ‘punk’ graphics by almost 10 years.”

The first issue of Mancusi’s Breeder featured the work of mail artists richard c. and John Dowd, Fluxus artist A. M. Fine, and cartoonist Bill Griffith. Mancusi was responsible for the cover, which featured a mix of newspaper clippings (including a report of a Nixon protest in Berkeley, and statistics of youthful drug use), a collage by Ray Johnson, and detourned turn-of-the century cartoons.

The Weekly Breeder gave me an opportunity to merge my interests in dada and mail art with my skills in graphic arts. I could draw like an underground cartoonist, do interesting designs with type and lettering, make Max Ernst-type collages, all while poking fun at politics and religion. We would also invite other artists to contribute a page or two, like Lowell Darling, Robert Cumming, Futzie Nutzle, Bill Griffith, Jeff Berner, Monte Cazazza, General Idea and Ray Johnson.”

While The Breeder served mainly as a vehicle for the works of Mancusi and Gaglione, Charles Chickadel, sometimes publishing under the name of Dada cult figure Arthur Craven, or Carlo Giovanni Cicatelli, expanded his coverage to both Bay Area artists and the international mail art community. Beginning in May 1973 under the name of The West Bay Dadaist, and continuing publication until 1975 under the title Quoz?, Chickadels’ publications were among the first ongoing mail art publications to feature an anthology of graphic art from scattered art networkers.

While the first issue of The West Bay Dadaist, continued the tradition of cut and paste newspaper clippings, the second issue featured art by Genesis P-Orridge from England, and Monte Cazzaza, both of whom collaborated in founding Industrial Records later in the decade. Fluxus artist Davi Det Hompson, Gaglione, and Mancusis’ brother Indian Ralph also contributed. The second issue is notable for the appearance of the headline, “Do-It-Yourself,” mainstay ethos of the punk movement to come. By Quoz? #9, published in 1975, the term “Punk Art” appeared in a graphic contributed by Gaglione. The same year Mancusi published his artist book, Punks, featuring portraits of Gaglione, Indian Ralph, Joel Rosssman, Opal L. Nations, and visiting General Idea collaborator Jorge Zontal.

The Bay Area Dadaists were certainly not the only ones caught up in self-publishing. In Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Anna Banana had been producing The Banana Rag since August 1971, which publicized such events as her annual April Fool’s Day and Town Fool celebrations. In June 1973, Banana published the ” Edition,” marking her move to San Francisco and a blossoming relationship with Ganglion. By 1975, Banana has become a vibrant part of the San Francisco art scene, serving as production manager for The San Francisco Bay Guardian. Through the Guardian, she organized The Banana Olympics, which featured such events as the “overhand banana throw,” a parade of nonmotorized vehicles, and the Dizzy Artist Race, a 50 yard spinning contest.

By this time, artist run spaces were flourishing in the Bay Area, and members of the Bay Area Dada group were partaking in the helicon days of performance art of the period. La Mamelle Art Center, under the direction of Carl Loeffler, Nancy Frank and Darlene Tong, and the publishers of Performance Anthology: Source Book of California Performance Art (1989), were especially receptive to the group. Gaglione and Buster Cleveland, a member of Mendo-Area Dada (Cleveland was living in Ukiah at the time), performed Dada Shave there in 1978, in which Gaglione shaved his chest with the word Dada, and Cleveland replicated a 1912 head shaving event by Marcel Duchamp. La Mamelle also sponsored Gaglione and Anna Bananas’ Synthetic Futurist Theater in 1976.

Italian Futurism was influencing Bay Area Dada in the mid-seventies. Monte Cazzaza, Gaglione, and Ron Illardo performed A Futurist Sintesi in 1975, and in 1978 Gaglione and Banana toured Futurist Sound throughout Europe. This was followed in 1980 with a tour of Canada performing Toward the Future, a program of twenty short Futurist works.

In addition to expanding their artistic repertoire, the Bay Area Dadaists were also expanding geographically. In 1974, Steve Caravello moved to Talmage, where he published The Mendo Do De Do. In 1976, he published Introducing Mendo Area Dada with Buster Cleveland. Recently deceased on May 6, 1998. Cleveland was one of the first East Village artists, renting a limousine with Gracie Mansion, and exhibiting works in the back seat to the delight and astonishment of passerbys.. One year later Mansion opened her 10th Street Space, one of the first galleries in the area, showing Cleveland’s’ work until 1993.

Cleveland and Caravello were joined by Winston Smith in the Mendo Dada scene. Smith was publishing a zine called Fallout, whose graphics caught the eye of Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys. Author of Act Like Nothings’s Wrong, a collection of his collage graphics, Smith designed the Dead Kennedys’ logo and album covers. Meno Dada culminated in the organization of Inter-Dada 80, a festival of Dada art, fashion and performance, featuring the appearance of the Italian mail artist Guglielmo Achille Cavellini.

The success of Inter-Dada 80 spawned a second celebration, Inter-Dada 84, organized by Ginny Lloyd, and coinciding with the publication of Mike Crane and Mary Stofflets’ Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of Postal Art Activity. This self-reflective look at mail art, illustrated in large part from the archives of Gaglione (and typeset by V. Vale of Search and Destroy and RE/Search fame), was a defining moment in the historic evolution of the Bay Area Dada Group, which had paved the way, not only for the explosive growth of the mail art movement, but for a large segment of zine culture, and the punk and industrial music and social scenes.

Despite the number of publications they produced, and the underground effect they had on the culture, the contribution of the Bay Area Dada Group has been virtually ignored by the mainstream. Their works were community based, spontaneous and ephemeral. Never seeking or receiving the recognition they deserved, the record left in their wake is more than adequate to stake a claim.

Convincing others is still an uphill battle. San Francisco art dealer Steven Leiber has listed Bay Area publications in several of his catalogs, including Ray Johnson, North American Networkers and Dadazines, released in 1995. “Even though I’ve targeted what little audience there is, there is very little interest. The only people interested were those writing about zines. Outside of that, I can’t remember anybody expressing any interest whatsoever.”

Reflecting on Buster Clevelands’ obituary in the July issue of Art in America, Monte Cazazza ruminated, “I’m bringing a body bag to the Bay Area Dada panel and crawling out of it to begin my talk. It’s only after you’ve died that people begin paying attention.”

Before Zines and Punk: Bay Area Dada, an exhibition of over 30 titles focusing on the publication activities of the Bay Area Dada Group from 1970 to 1984, will be on display at the Main San Francisco Public Library in the Skylight Gallery from August 8-September 12. A panel discussion with Monte Cazzaza, Bill Gaglione, Tim Mancusi and Carlo Giovanni Cicatelli, moderated by John Held, Jr. will take place in Koret Auditorium on Thursday, September 3 at 6:00 PM.

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