On March 1, Envoy Enterprises kicks off a group show, “FGFt,” a selection of visual art by 27 artists, in homage to Frank Tovey, the founder of 1970s-80s British electronic group Fad Gadget on the 10th anniversary of Tovey’s death. As Tovey was an uncompromising musician and a provocative performer, it seems fitting that some of the pieces are rather challenging (see the work by Terence Koh in the slideshow). The show is intended as a celebration of Tovey’s legacy and incorporates a broad range of artists, including Casey Spooner, Erika Keck, Lovett/Codagnone, Robert Knoke, Slava Mogutin, Conrad Ventur and former Limelight club kid Desi Santiago (aka Desi Monster), almost all of whom have created work specifically for the show.
The group show at Envoy Enterprises, a small independent gallery on the Lower East Side that often feels like a wormhole into underground culture of the ’80s and ’90s, is the first in a three-part series, a collaboration between Envoy Enterprises, NP Contemporary Art and Mute Records. On Friday, March 3, Xeno & Oaklander and Ikeyard perform at Dixon Place, and on March 10, Anthology Film Archives will host a screening of Fad Gadget: Frank Tovey, a documentary by Tovey’s daughter Morgan as well as a film by Savage Grace director Tom Kalin.
“Basically it all started when I found out Frank Tovey died,” said Jimi Dams, the founder and director of Envoy. “That made a real impression on me. Not only because he was part of my youth but because I knew that he was part of an era that is disappearing within the cracks of history. I felt that something of that had to be remembered and honored. Instead of making a dry and dull retrospective of Frank Tovey and Fad Gadget, I thought it would be more interesting to get a lot of different artists together–filmmakers, performance artists, musicians, and visual artists, from different countries and different generations, some who have never heard of him, as well as those who knew who he was and what he stood for.”
What Tovey stood for, according to Mr. Dams was a particular refusal to bend to corporate will or compromise in order to make himself or his music more appealing to the mainstream audiences. His music combined synthesizers with sounds of found objects like drills and electric razors.
“Frank Tovey was special because he made electronic music in the beginning, and he could have easily been as big as Gary Newman or Depeche Mode, but he chose not to,” said Mr. Dams, who explained that Tovey would always do something that would make a performance completely commercially unacceptable. “He would be naked and covered in flowers and tar,” he said. “He was big in the underworld. But not in the mainstream. Absolutely not.”
And when electronic music became really big, Tovey, ever in contempt of trends, just dropped it all and picked up a guitar and sang folk songs.
“Terence Koh is wild about Frank’s performances,” said Mr. Dams about the artist who created one of the most provocative pieces in the show—a beautifully shot black and white photograph of a man bent over with burning incense placed in his backside. “A lot of what Terence Koh does also has its ground in what Frank was doing when he went on stage.”
While many artists knew of Tovey, others had did not. However, after being shown the documentary about Tovey, the many of the uninitiated developed an allegiance to his work. “In fact when Martynka Wawrzyniak spoke to her husband, Richard Kern, he was like, ‘I can’t believe you don’t know who this is.’” Ms. Wawrzyniak contributed a piece composed of a vinyl record, tarred and feathered.
Former club kid Desi Santiago, who has “a whole history of performing and outrageousness,” heard Mr. Dams was doing the show and voiced his interest to Mr. Dams. “I can’t say no,” Mr. Dams said and laughed. “I mean I didn’t want to say no either, but I couldn’t say no because he’s an artist with the gallery.”
Mute Records is involved in the show by way of contributing documentation, CDs and T-shirts. But they didn’t bring any of their artists into the musical event. “They could have used this to promote bands of their own, but they didn’t,” said Mr. Dams. “They respected the programming.”
Tovey was the first musician to sign with Mute Records, which went on to put out albums by Depeche Mode, Can, and Moby, when Tovey and Mute founder Daniel Miller were just friends. Miller will be traveling from the UK for the opening, which speaks, at least for Mr. Dams, of a larger commitment that many artists and friends of Tovey’s have to preserving Tovey’s legacy. “It shows how tight all these people are,” he said. And how big corporate business has not changed their ideology.”