An exposé on a pandemic web crime that involved an eccentric genius, an opportunist boomer, and the infamous 1980’s art movement — The Rivington School.
In the art world, there are originals, eccentrics, and geniuses, just like there are also opportunists, copycats, & forgers. Art culture is never short of big personalities, fame-seekers, or even perhaps a few narcissists — (I’m looking at you, Kanye.) But no one can deny the change in the culture that they have over time. Many are, in fact, brilliant creatives whose greatness is measured only after they have long died and/or faded away.
Just like in any other place where you find pioneers, you will undoubtedly find wannabes. Those who don’t have their own original ideas who simply find it easier to just take from others. Many of them go either unnoticed or go on to become successful in their own right while none are the wiser. Unfortunately at that point there isn’t anything that can be done. However, history will still tell who was actually part of a movement and who was simply along for the ride.
There is a difference between “borrowing” an idea and creating something new with a fresh take, and that of a blatant ripoff. People who live in Los Angeles know exactly what I mean when I simply say “Santee Alley;” that open air market that spans all of 6 or 7 square blocks in Downtown LA where you can find designer knockoffs, cheap costumes, and walls and walls of fabrics and shimmery rhinestones.
But all that glitters isn’t always gold, sometimes it simply smells like sh*t.
Enter Angel Eyedealism; world famous singer, performance artist, and astrologer to the New York Wall street elite. She has been featured in magazines such as The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, and The Washington Post. She can be easily identified by her eccentric level of dress, brightly colored — often a shade of shocking pink with a matching headdress, a makeup beat any drag queen in Hell’s Kitchen would be envious of, and her voluptuous breasts pushed all the way up to her neck.
She also happens to be an original member of New York’s iconic 1980’s counter-culture art movement: The Rivington School.
What was the Rivington School?
The Rivington School was an art movement that began in 1984 on New York’s Lower East Side Between 40 Rivington Street — 57 Stanton St. The burgeoning art scene in New York was juxtaposed to a crack and heroin epidemic as well as the smack-dab in the middle of an AIDS epidemic. It was because of this earnestness, and perhaps even a very close relationship with death, that art was the only sane form of expression — it was a necessity. Simply put, it was a counter-cultural movement as much as it was an art movement.
It was a punk art movement, born out of the gutters of Manhattan, and spilled all over onto one particular corner of the Lower East Side. For more information, pick up the book, Rivington School: An 80s Revolution by Monty Cantsin, another member of RS.
“I got involved with the Rivington School in 1984,” Eyedealism says. “Our motto was show up, make art, or fuck off. You didn’t have to have a proposal to get in, you just had to have an urgency with your artistry.”
The galleries themselves; Nada Gallery, No Se No Gallery, Fusion Arts Gallery, the quickly shut down Freddy the Dreamer Gallery, and the abandoned gas station across the street which was converted into a sculpture garden. Anywhere you went in the Rivington School featured a variety of up-and-coming artists, painters, performers, and sculptors who simply wanted to make art, hang out with the locals, and create change.
Among the early artists in residency were “Cowboy” Ray Kelly, Linus Corragio, E. F. Higgins, Julius Klein, Shalom Newman, Monty Cantsin, Theresa Rodrigues, Jim C, Apocalynn, Arlene Schloss, Christa Gomper, J.D. Fleishman, Rochelle Garniez, and Angel Eyedealism A.K.A. Angela Repellant.
Despite being an alternative to the hoity-toity art scene of the rest of Manhattan, where artists were generally included by their level of monetary stature or fame, Rivington School unfortunately still had the same modus operandi as SoHo. Cisgender, mostly heterosexual, white men, and because of this, Rivington School was not free of its own internal issues.
“The men were cruel, a lot of fat-shaming and body-shaming, and a lot of women were even beaten up — I was not one of them — but there were a lot of issues,” Eyedealism says.
The men mostly capitalized off of the art movement, many of whom were trust fund kids who just liked to hang out with the drug addicts and the edgy art punks.
“The men have managed to make money at it, the women weren’t even acknowledged,” Eyedealism adds. “That’s the whole point of Women of Rivington School.”
Who are Women of Rivington School?
Women of Rivington School, (abbreviated as WORS) is an organization of female artists started by Eyedealism in 2015. It is composed of female artists of varying mediums who all began leaving their mark in the RS, and have since managed to make their own names in the NY art scene and around the world.
Logo design for www.womenofrivingtonschool.com.
Smithsonian magazine estimates that just “11 percent of acquisitions and 14 percent of exhibitions at 26 major American museums between 2008 and 2018” were by female artists. That number was surely lower in the 1980s when Warhol, Haring, and Basquiat were on the scene. Unfortunately that’s how the art scene was, and to a certain extent, still is. Female artists were not taken as seriously as the males.
RS was, like most of America, a boys club. WORS simply acknowledges the impact the female contributors of RS made on the movement and aims to give them a platform to exhibit their work via gallery events and historical exhibitions. The whole premise allows the former RS artists to come together once again and shake up the art scene with a healthy dose of “girl power” with a punk edge, as well as showcase a less remembered, but nevertheless important, time in New York art history.
“I started WORS in 2015. I started it in a way to honor my then, dying mother. So I started it in a way to honor her and women in general, also to honor the female contributions to this art movement,” Eyedealism says.
Over the course of the next several years, the WORS project began evolving. In 2020 during the pandemic lockdown, Eyedealism was approached by Maggie Reilly, who wanted to curate her long-standing project.
“It was those early years, in the mid 80s, in a combustion of Reaganomics and Aqua Net hairspray, that we thrived and expressed ourselves with wild abandon.” — Angel Eyedealism
“I was sitting with [Eyedealism] at an opening for Toyo at Howl Gallery in 2016,” Reilly says. “She said to me ‘you know, we should start a Women of Rivington School exhibit.’ So I wanted to curate it.”
As benign as this request was, when Reilly began curating the project for Eyedealism, she took the project into a very inauthentic place. In essence, Reilly was trying to insert herself into history — so much that she was willing to commit credit card fraud and intellectual property infringement to do so.
A Digital Family Reunion Gone Sour
During the course of the pandemic, WORS began taking form. Touting her clerical skills, Reilly talked Eyedealism into creating a Google Group list with the names of the women who were involved in RS.
Around June, Eyedealism suffered a serious health issue and had to have emergency surgery. Capitalizing on Eyedealism’s health crisis, Reilly made her play to control the project. Reilly began adding over 40 women to the group, many of whom were unknown to Eyedealism; and when asked for documentation of involvement in RS, failed to do so. Never one to keep quiet about something, let alone her own project, Eyedealism spoke up about it.
“She then started adding more names, and more names, finding people under rocks, which was the last straw to me,” Eyedealism says.
Soon enough WORS started to be grossly contested by people within the group, especially the original members of RS. Since this was a historical project, it was important for the project to maintain its authentic status with actual historical contributors to the movement.
This public outcry taking place via an email chain began a downward spiral of online bullying, name-calling, and in-fighting between several of the members of the group and Eyedealism. She expressed this to Reilly, who was still acting as moderator of the group, about the harassment and to do something about it. Eventually the unruly members were removed and things continued on mostly smoothly, but only for a while.
A Technological Art Heist
On October 6th, 2020, to establish credibility and get the work out there, it was discussed that a website needed to be created. Eyedealism made it clear that as WORS: Women of Rivington School was her intellectual property, her name to be listed as the domain owner (for www.womenofrivingtonschool.com) and her credit card to be paid for it. Trusting Reilly, she gave this information to her over the phone. However, Reilly had named herself as the owner of the domain, using Eyedealism’s credit card. (Which is classified as credit card fraud and intellectual property infringement according to Wix.com and Venmo.)
Eyedealism continued working, as it was election time and many news outlets including The Washington Post, were interviewing her for her astrological predictions on this very important election. (Eyedealism stood by her conviction that Biden would win.)
Eyedealism’s historical passion project which she hoped to use as a platform to elevate the women who were an essential part of a specific era of New York art history — and the greater culture — had been hijacked by a group of boomer women who had not contributed much to this movement. Reilly herself, admittedly, only curated a nearby gallery during that time.
“I’m not really known as a performance artist, I’ve mostly been a printmaker,” Reilly says. “I co-directed an artist-run gallery, the Ward-Nasse Gallery from ‘78–81. I met one of the family members of the gallery when Rivington came into being, around ’83, he said come down, he’ll show me what’s going on here.”
(This time frame is clearly at odds with the actual genesis of RS in ‘84–85.) As it were, Reilly was mostly a bystander, who read poetry at Plexus once or twice, and was dating E.F. Higgins during that time.
So the group had been overrun by illegitimate artists, who instead of highlighting the actual artwork, the women within this group were more interested in starting fights online and stirring up drama amongst their fellow women. This was quite the opposite of the intended original purpose of WORS, which was to promote and uplift fellow members of the movement.
“It was just so f**ked up!” Eyedealism says, “I’d never do something like that to another woman, let alone another artist.”
On October 31st, 2020, Reilly purchased a .net domain, unbeknownst to Eyedealism, (www.womenofrivingtonschool.net) and on November 4th, Eyedealism received an email from Reilly stating “Unfortunately at this time, our relationship is not a good fit, and we are moving forward without you. We will continue to credit you as the concept originator on the website.” (The same day after receiving this email, Eyedealism called Wix, who clarified the illegal nature of the purchase and awarded the .com domain back to her.)
One of the original members and Eyedealism’s longtime friend, Theresa Rodrigues, objected to this news and was kicked out of the group by Reilly as well. Several other original members of RS came to Eyedealism’s aid as well, including Monty Cantsin, Julius Klein and Jim C. all expressed their support for Eyedealism. In essence, the whole project had been completely hijacked by Reilly while the group of women artists continued to bad-mouth her openly on the forum for the next several months.
“Rivington School is no longer, this is just a connection that we had that we are exploiting. There may be a question of authenticity… Or whether or not I stole the idea. But if you didn’t do anything with the idea, then, you know… Deal with it, honey.” — Maggie Reilly
Eyedealism filed complaints with Wix, Venmo, and hired intellectual property lawyers who served Reilly — as well as Linus Caraggio — with defamation of character papers following a series of inflammatory emails Caraggio sent to Eyedealism. In the Spring that followed the lawsuit, the Facebook group’s name was changed to “Rivington Sisiters [sic] in the arts,” the .net website of WORS was changed to WARS (Women Artists of the Rivington School), and Eyedealism’s image had been scrubbed from the site.
Logo design for www.womenartistsofrivingtonschool.net.
To this day the site has many artists shown, but little is shown about the collective group that describes what it intends to do or what part anyone played in RS. The website itself is completely devoid of character and showcases no art from any of the members listed. It’s a diet version of Women of Rivington School, and one that got the taste very wrong.
Rivington School was a legitimate piece of art history in New York, it painted the lower east side in anarchic, yet vibrant colors of the community it upheld, all while juxtaposed against a backdrop of several epidemics that New Yorkers of the time were all existing in. It became a unique expression of a specific New York experience, transformed several blocks of the Lower East Side into an art oasis, and became a haven where punks, addicts, artists, and trust fund kids all collided and were free to express themselves in whatever way they wished.
Most of all, it was a legitimate historical art movement, one that should be told through the female artists who were actually a part of it, not those who were simply passersby on the peripherals or the many notoriety chasers who seek some level of recognition. To try and sell it as anything less would be doing a disservice to the New York art community, for female artists who endure misogyny and are constantly being compared to other female artists, and most of all The Rivington School itself.
What’s Next for WORS?
Eyedealism, busier than ever, is simply moving forward with her work. Instead of stooping to online bullying and harassment, has chosen to lead with her art.
“I am a creator, not a destroyer,” Eyedealism says. “I don’t see the need to step on somebody else’s face to get a leg up.”
Over the course of the pandemic Eyedealism has created more than 50 original art collages, which in October of 2021 were on display at Art Apple NYC, alongside many of her original 80s Rivington School art pieces. She has artwork in permanent archives at The Whitney, The Guggenheim, and The MOMA, respectively. She was also featured in a recent segment of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and also the hit podcast Guys We F*cked YouTube channel segment: The Dumb Bitch Woo-Woo Hour. She has also been performing at pop-up shows with her long-time music collaborator Nick Demopolis and their band Warhol With Tits.
Currently Eyedealism is working with Theresa Rodrigues and J.D. Fleishman on future (and legitimate) WORS exhibits in 2022. Be sure to check out their website www.womenofrivingtonschool.com (NOT .net!!) for more information.
For more information on astrology readings from Angel Eyedealism visit www.angeleyeastrology.com
To quote Paul Gruber, “truth is merely a point of view, but authenticity cannot be faked.”