The Good/Bad Art Collective
of Denton, Texas
By Georgette Nicolaides
Georgette Nicolaides is a writer, visual artist, naturalized Texan, and not-so-gracefully aging punk rocker. She has contributed violin sounds to the ambient improvisational project Atlantic Drone (Noiseville Records). She currently resides in upstate New York and teaches managerial statistics at Syracuse University.
Although some works remain viable for long periods of time, most art passes away. Immortality is reserved for the exceptional few. Origins and conclusions meet when inspiration is also the cause of an artwork's death.
- Linda Weintraub, In the Making: Creative Options for Contemporary Art
When you think of conceptual art, the last place that may come to mind is a Texas college town. However, from 1994 to 2001, a band of surrealist pranksters known as the Good/Bad Art Collective, headquartered two hours north of Dallas/Fort Worth, staged one-day happenings that involved complex installations combining multiple mediums. While the University of North Texas (UNT) is better known for its music program – contemporary composers such as John Cage have taught there – a UNT art course called "Hybrid Forms" laid the theoretical groundwork for integrating a diverse spectra of forms with a political sensibility that shocked viewers into thinking. The Village Voice described Good/Bad as "Fluxus with ADD."1 Even the collective’s name provokes thought; typically, art patrons categorize their experiences or the objects of their view as either “ good” or “ bad.” The name forces viewers to reconsider that dichotomy.
A rotating cast of UNT art students comprised the collective, with some departing after their graduation. A core group of artists provided continuity throughout the collective’s tenure, although there was little actual leadership. Over 250 events were collectively planned, extensively publicized, executed, and dismantled the following day. All of the projects "revolve[d] around some perverse theme.”2 Examples include:
Nothing is Happening – A 1996 non-event for which press releases were sent out. The (non) event consisted of a collective member taped face first to a telephone poll. A turquoise flyer attached to his back read "Nothing is Happening.”3
Image: Documentation of Nothing is Happening non-event. Courtesy of the author.
Frat Boys – A 1997 event that enclosed four fraternity members "in a tiny observation room containing no more than a full keg of beer, a microphone, and some colored markers. In front of an amused audience, madness ensued: bad graffiti, abject drunkenness, jeers at their viewers – followed by a raucous breakout four hours later.”4
Very Fake, But Real – A 1997 happening held in Houston, Texas, in which Good/Bad members created an exact replica of their Denton studio, and then built a roller rink around it. During the event, participants skated around the studio, with some engag ing in a game of roller derby.5
Joey on I.C.U. – A 1999 show about the life of a lonely kangaroo and his jackalope friend Maple, featuring animated sculptures.6 During the exhibition, Maple pulls a stagecoach that Joey rides on to find his mother, before being attacked by Rondo Indians. Joey thus winds up in the I.C.U.
Joey on I.C.U. was staged at ABC No Rio, a collective space on New York’s Lower East Side. By 1999, several members of the Denton group had graduated with the realization that conceptual art wasn’t exactly a booming Texas industry; subsequently, some relocated east to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The Joey project marked the collective’s coming out on the New York art scene, with over three hundred people attending the one- night installation. At that point there were two loosely connected Good/Bad Collectives, but by 2001 both had dissolved. The challenges of programming two locations in different stages of growth, coupled with the unique difficulties of each market, in particular for conceptual and event-based work, led to the group's demise. Financial constraints may have also contributed.
In regards to funding, one of the techniques the collective effectively used to raise money was a "Rock Lottery." As recently as July 2007, former Good/Bad member Chris Weber employed this fundraiser to support Seattle’s Vera House, a shelter for battered women.7 This is how a Rock Lottery works: A group of musicians assemble early in the morning. A random lottery assigns each one to a different band. Each ensemble gets a drummer, but the rest of the instruments are left to chance. The bands have the rest of the day to create and rehearse music for that evening's performance. Sometimes the performances are amazing; other times the band is assigned three vocalists and no bass player, and/or drinks all day, then performs to catcalls. But it's all-good. Or bad. Good/bad.
1. Christina Rees,“Good/Bad’s multiband Brooklyn event,” The Village Voice (August 29, 2001), http://www.villagevoice.com/nyclife/0135,regulars,27655,16.html
2. Christina Rees, “Manhattan Transfer,” Dallas Observer (July 29, 1999), http://www.dallasobserver.com/1999-07-29/news/manhattan-transfer/
3. “Fry Street Photo Archives: Good/Bad’s Nothing,” CentralDentonPreservation.org (October 25, 2006), http://www.centraldentonpreservation.org/blog/2006/10/
4. Christina Rees, “Manhattan Transfer.”
5. ”Good/Bad Art Collective,” Everything2 (September 27, 2000), http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=765031
6. Christina Rees, “Manhattan Transfer.”
7. Sam Machkovech “Winning Numbers: It’s Good to Play the Rock Lottery,” The Stranger (July 11, 2007), http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=262597