When Stephen Seemayer projected a rough cut of “Young Turks” against a downtown warehouse wall in 1981, Richard Newton was not among the artists included in the film.
Richard Newton in 1981 at the Bunker Hill site where MOCA would soon be built.
Seemayer and Newton had been very good friends and collaborators on several videos — including “A Glancing Blow” (see excerpt below), in which Seemayer was a cameraman in one of the cars. Seemayer had filmed Newton doing performances and talking about his work, just as he had the other downtown artists that he was friends with in those days. Seemayer had even assemble-edited Newton’s section of the film, which included Newton taking viewers on “the first tour” of the as-yet-unbuilt Museum of Contemporary Art on Bunker Hill.
But for one reason or another — the two friends still cannot agree on what went wrong — Seemayer left Newton’s footage on the cutting room floor when he put together the first rough cut for the 1981 screening.
When Seemayer and editor Pamela Wilson decided to reenvision “Young Turks” in 2012, they agreed the section was worth reviving and added it back into the finished film.
In “Young Turks,” Newton explains some of the ideas behind his performances of the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which he inhabited hotel rooms for an extended period and the audience observed through cracked doors and windows what he was doing inside.
Audience members view Newton’s 1980 performance through a door in the Hotel El Dorado on Spring Street.
“If we’re artists,” Newton explains, “we might think that, somehow, we’re doing something special that’s different from what the rest of the people are doing, either the people working, or the people just living on the street.
“But in fact, we’re doing kind of the same thing. We’re in a pattern. We make our art, we go through certain rituals. We have certain things we have to do to survive.”
Inside the hotel room, Newton conversed with his stuffed animal “friends” while getting progressively more drunk.
In “Get Under the Table, Don’t Look at the Windows” — a 1980 performance at the Hotel El Dorado on Spring Street — Newton inhabited a room of what was then a rundown flophouse and explored alcoholism and fears of nuclear annihilation in conversations with stuffed animals that were observed by the audience through a crack in the room’s chain-secured door.
“When I’m in that room,” Newton says in “Young Turks,” “the kind of activity I’m involved in is the same kind activity that a child would be involved in, that an adult who’s living in that hotel would be involved in, and that an artist would be involved in, staying in their own studio and working on their own.”
Newton has never ceased making art. He continues to create films and performances, and his latest work, “La Gruta Azul” (“The Blue Grotto”) — an installation at Jancar Gallery in Chinatown — will open on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. The opening reception will be from 6-9 p.m. at the gallery at 961 Chung King Road, Los Angeles 90012. The exhibit runs through October 19.
For more information on Richard Newton, visit his website here.
Richard Newton resume
“Young Turks” is out on DVD and will soon be available for download and viewing on iTunes and other digital platforms.