LondonCork Street Attack: Grey Organisation
The Grey Organisation’s Cork Street Attack is the subject of an exhibition at The Mayor Gallery. The windows of The Mayor Gallery and those of the other art dealers on Cork Street, were covered with buckets of grey paint during a night-time act of artistic anti-establishment protest on 21st May 1985.
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Curated by William Ling, Cork Street Attack will showcase new prints created from photographic evidence that recorded the immediate aftermath of the event alongside related artwork, ephemera and documents taken from the Grey Organisation archive kept by artist Toby Mott, the group’s spokesperson and central protagonist.
The works span the breadth and depth of the group’s output, including drawings for the Labour Party’s 1985 election campaign, hand prints, calling cards, preparatory studies for De La Soul’s album cover ‘3 Feet High and Rising’, and photographs of a performance outside the ICA.
The Grey Organisation (GO) was a post-punk art collective that emerged from East London and Soho in the early 1980s, folding in 1991.
Precursory to the advent of the YBAs (Young British Artists) and the arrival of big money in the artworld, the collective embraced anonymity and rejected the hero artist identity. With its blend of corporate yuppie culture and Soviet monoculture, it embodied a reflection of the status quo of the Cold War and Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980’s.
The sombre dress code of its members; long dark overcoats worn over grey suits with a white shirt; top button fastened and no tie, was intentionally chosen to show no allegiance to any institution or group.
Comprised of the painter Toby Mott (its co-founder and spokesperson), Daniel Saccoccio, nee Clegg Paul Spencer and the late Tim Burke (1963-2018] the GO lived together in an end of terrace house in Bow, East London, and became notorious for staging anarchic events.
These included an attack on a number of Mayfair galleries on Cork Street, then the epicentre of the London art world. Late one night, armed with buckets of grey paint, GO splattered the galleries plate glass windows in protest at their lack of support for emerging artists. This action resulted in a banning order from central London. With constant attention from the authorities following the attack, the collective re-located to New York to be represented by the East Village Civilian Warfare Gallery.
Other interventions included gate crashing the International Contemporary Art Fair at Olympia and participating in ‘The Money Show’ curated by J.S.G Boggs with their works ultimately being confiscated by Scotland Yard’s Counterfeiting Squad.
Working as a collective, the GO joined others of the time, including: General Idea, Gilbert & George, Neue Slowenische Kunst, Body Map, Neo Naturists, Creative Salvage, Art & Language, House of Beauty and Culture, Mutoid Waste, Survival Research Laboratories & Psychic TV.
The collective held exhibitions in such places as the derelict Princelet Street Synagogue in the East End and the vacated hospital at Golden Square, Soho. GO also hosted a Psychic TV renegade concert Temporary Temple in a disused church in North London.
Exhibiting in London, New York, San Francisco and Tokyo the GO worked in mediums of painting, sculpture, film and video. The creative output of the GO is a baffling affair, transitioning from a post punk sensibility to late eighties post modernism, and incorporating traditional fine art practice, music, fashion, performance, video and commercial design. The GO appeared in the works of Gilbert and George, modelled for Yohji Yamamoto and Katharine Hamnett were photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe, featured in numerous Derek Jarman films and were commissioned by The Labour Party and Swatch Watch to create artwork for use on posters and t-shirts. Later, they produced music videos and album design for artists connected with the burgeoning New York Hip Hop culture, most notably the design of Three Feet High and Rising for De La Soul.
GO early films were shown at institutions, including The London Filmmakers Co-op, Edinburgh Film Festival, the Tate, and ICA who, at that time, were engaged in showing much of the new video and film being made in the UK. Later on, film/video works were carried by Printed Matter in NY and their commercial work broadcast on the music cable channel MTV.
Despite the diversity of the GO’s activity there was a unified sensibility around the individual’s positioning within the larger social and structural environments of the urban landscape. The focus of attention on emerging artists did not exist as it does today. What survives of its output, like their infamous Cork Street attack, is raw and uncompromising, embodying the rebellious spirit of their time.
Presenting a selection of original Grey Organisation works, paintings, drawings, artefacts and ephemera, the resolute nature of their practice reflected an ‘exister’ attitude, point of view and sensibility.
Courtesy of The Mayor Gallery, London