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Group Material: Primer for Raymond Williams

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Primer (for Raymond Williams) installation shot

Group Material were an American curatorial collective known for producing innovative and highly political exhibitions from 1979 – 1996. With a large revolving membership including artists like Felix Gonzalez Torres, Tim Rollins, Julie Ault and Doug Ashford, the group, according to their 1981 manifesto, set out to ‘explode the assumptions that dictate what art is, who art is for and what an art exhibition can be’. Inspired by Keywords Group Material produced the 1982 exhibition Primer (for Raymond Williams) at the Artists Space in New York. Their press release read:

Primer (for Raymond Williams) is a collaborative installation presenting over thirty individual responses to the political and social content of ordinary words such as: building, check, donkey, map, number, sale, space, table, etc…Tim Rollins, a founder of Group Material, states that Primer “is dedicated to Raymond Williams, a British cultural critic and historian whose innovative work in the field of art, politics and language (culminating in his book Keywords of 1976) serves as an inspiration and example to the theme and method of our project.

Primer was significant in the collective’s evolving practice as it was the first exhibition in which pop-culture material – that is pre made objects and elements like film posters, books, records, candy and so on – were installed alongside actual artworks made by the artists in the group. This strategy of intermingling culture industry materials with art served Group Material well, and was used in significant exhibitions by the collective like Timeline: A Chronicle of U.S. Intervention in Central and Latin America (1984), Resistance (Anti-Baudrillard) (1987) and Aids Timeline (1991).