Antagonist Movement

Ethan Minsker

The Antagonist Movement is a cultural movement formed in New York City in 2000. The group grew out of desperation and in reaction to the New York art market. The movement primarily involves visual arts, literature, film, art manifestos and graphic design. It articulates its anti-commercial politics through a rejection of the prevailing standards in the art market and focuses its efforts on creating non-commercial cultural works and venues.

Its purpose is to ridicule the meaninglessness, superficiality and artificiality of the commercial art world. Antagonist activities have included public gatherings, demonstrations, the publication of art/literary journals, the production of documentary films, a clothing line, weekly art shows, writers nights, and a public access television show.

For many of its members, the Movement is their protest against the established commercial art market in which there is little chance for unknown artists to succeed, regardless of how talented they may be. Based in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the Antagonist Movement has participants in other US cities, Europe and South America. Influenced by the punk rock and pop art and by the Dada movement, the Antagonist Movement seeks to be inclusive of all forms of art and individual artist’s styles and expressions as long as the work provokes.

Ethan H. Minsker, Sergio Vega and Anders Olson first conceived of the Antagonist Movement while working in bars in the Lower East Side. They wanted to create an event that would also incorporate their individual passions: art, film, music and writing. The first art show was held in the basement of Niagara Bar in January 2000. It featured art by Minsker, Olson, and Dima Drjuchin. The owners of the bar asked the group to do this pop-up art event every Thursday for one year. They would end up doing these one-night art shows for over 11 years, showcasing the works of more than 3,000 up-and-coming artists. The Antagonists added live music to the events, such as Lisa Jaeggi and Vic Ruggiero. Minsker used film to document the larger events of the group and events held in other US cities and abroad. In 2002, the Antagonists began a writers night on Sunday nights at Black & White Bar in New York. The actor and comedian Jonah Hill was discovered performing at one of these events.

Over the years, the Antagonists have sponsored dozens of themed shows, often held in the front room of Niagara or on the streets of the Lower East Side. For example, in 2010 the ‘Rat House Project’: in the East Village, middle school kids were making bird houses as part of their school projects. The neighbors began complaining when they discovered that rats were getting into the bird houses and eating the bird food. Eleven artists made elaborate homes for rats, each less than two square feet. The rat houses were installed in a vacant lot on 14th Street in New York City and remained up for three weeks until the owner of the lot had the rat houses removed. ‘Obscure Dictators’ was a two-month theme show of portraits of normal people depicted as dictators. Based on the theory that dictators are average people with access to power, backed by a military threat, any of us could be a dictator.

‘Weapon This’ was a gallery show featuring the art of Gavin Kenyon, Ethan H. Minsker, Ted Riederer, Shannon Daugherty and Jay Ivcevich depicting a fascination with weaponry. From man’s beginning, and one of the reasons for its distinction, weapons have played a crucial role as the provider and protector, satiating the thirst for power. Weaponry is the essential tool for settling disputes, defining heroes, villains, victims, and victors, acting as both the liberator and the repressor. Often, the harshest verdict is the ultimate result of our intrigue and obsession with weaponry; a fetish fueled by the necessity to nurture and harness man’s volatile ego.

Several low-budget films were made with funding from Thursday night art shows and from sales of art and Antagonist merchandise. In recent years, the Antagonists have used to fund production of a series of films, many of which document Antagonist art events and profile upcoming artists. ‘The Soft Hustle’ (2000) is a 70-minute narrative film about a Lower East Side lowlife who makes a bet for $1,000, which he promptly loses. The film took four years to complete. Ethan H. Minsker and his crew filmed one scene per week until its completion. Real guns were used as it was cheaper than renting props or getting required city permits. The drugs in the Atlantic City scenes were also authentic. The story is based on real events that took place in the bar where Minsker worked. It is a narrative film made from donated or stolen resources. ‘Antagovision,’ is a public access TV show broadcast on Manhattan Neighborhood Network Channel 67 every Tuesday night at 11 pm. There are more than 60 28-minute episodes, interviews, live music and short films of the events sponsored by the Antagonist Movement.

The Antagonist Movement began its publishing department after taking over ‘Psycho Moto Fanzine.’ Attempting to diverge from the publishing establishment, the Antagonist placed an emphasis on multiple layers of editing and art direction. Each published work is designed to be a stand-alone as piece of art. Writers and artists are paired up for each project. Promotion sometimes consists of plastering New York City with posters and stickers of the books. ‘Somewhere Between a Punch and a Handshake’ (2004) by Brother Mike Cohen with art work by Andy Mags, Un Lee and Vickers Gringo features disturbing short stories of the life and times of Brother Mike who has an obsession with classic rock and a love for Buffalo New York and his cat. Brother Mike hosts the writers night and was discovered while working as a DJ at Niagara bar. Brother Mike’s spoken word performance can be seen in the Antagonist movie, ‘Mark of the Ninja.’

‘Rich Boy Cries for Momma’ in 2010 is a fictional memoir by Ethan H. Minsker. A coming-of-age novel that is set during the period of D.C.’s now legendary hardcore music scene. It follows Minsker’s boot prints: the privileged son turned punk rocker. The story is drawn from Minsker’s experiences growing up in Washington, D.C. during the ’70s and ’80s as the son of prominent lawyers. The book features original illustrations by up and coming artists: the cover art is the work of Kevin Cyr and the inside illustrations are by Ted Riederer. ‘Barstool Prophets’ in 2011 is also a fictional memoir by Minsker, the second in a trilogy of novels, is set in the bars of New York’s Lower East Side. Giving fictional accounts of true events, the novel follows the lives of a wild spectrum of characters, narrated by a young writer working in a bar. The story chronicles an iconic neighborhood over a period of 20 years, from its seedy early 1990s to its recent gentrification into a Manhattan hot spot. The cover art is by Dan Krupin and the inside illustrations are by Dan Krupin and Un Lee.

The different logos of the Antagonist Movement were designed by Gabriel Coutu-Dumont, Un Lee, Doug McQueen and James Jajac. Over the years, the Antagonist Movement has introduced a variety of logos meant to show the passage of time and the diversity of the group as a whole. Stickers emblazoned with each design cover lower Manhattan. Antagonists from around the world often send pictures of Antagonist stickers in other cities.

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