by Nelson Holmes
We grow accustomed to our linear perspective and simply plot an era on a timeline. The sixties become the decade of free love, tie-dye and drugs (and don’t forget all that great music, now the soundtrack of every new ad campaign produced by the pharmaceutical giants). It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that those communities and movements that glowed for a short while were the result of a multitude of ideas intersecting and hybridizing in a particular moment having no, hard and fast, parameters.
I attended a working preview of a new documentary seeking to give an overview of the rise and demise of “Drop City,” a famed artists’ colony and commune outside of Trinidad, Colorado. The showing and lecture, Sunday evening at Aultman Hall, was titled “Drop!: On the art, architecture and social experiment that was Drop City.” Joan Grossman and her co-director Tom McCourt (not present) have chosen to focus on Drop City as a reaction against the limiting and coercive tenor of, not only popular culture, but the status quo of the art world itself. In a lecture to follow the screening, Drop City cofounder and art professor, Clark Richert, reminded everyone that the roots of Drop City lie in the fifties and with a “Drop Art” movement that sought to make art in unusual forms and, Dada-like, create incongruous juxtapositions and mental derailments. Richert also explained how Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome was expanded into an entire palette of different geometries fusing the arts and mathematics. Even advances in the field of theoretical physics would find resonance in the art that evolved an expression at this singular time and place. Grossman emphasized the social and cultural impact of the community; noting the use of society’s cast-off materials in building the community and the symbolism in deconstructing our automobiles to manifest shelter. Many of the philosophical stances expressed in the practical management of the community would presage its demise. The emphasis on a collective greater than the sum of its parts would become strained as a westward expansion of seekers would wash upon the shore of this artists’ colony newly made iconic in the media, The absence of dogma or charismatic leadership, though laudable, would find Drop City ill-prepared to weather the strain of fame and aid in its premature end.
The evening was very well attended, with many of Drop City’s pioneer residents present, as well as Trinidadians and hippies and communards from throughout the West; a crowd numbering well over 150. Though it may well have served as a tease, the nine minutes of the Grossman/McCourt documentary was disappointing in its brevity. And though Tom Grow made an attempt to address the day-to-day life at the commune and speak of the community lacking a “technology of confidence” which led to its truncated lifespan. My guess is the socio/cultural aspect had been overgrazed by the media and historians alike and the filmmakers decided to leave this area fallow. No matter the emphasis, Drop City will forever be emblematic of an era too often seen in ham-fisted caricature.