Nina Yankowitz Recalls Woodstock’s Group 212

December 30th, 2010
Oh Say Can You See

A 1968 Draped Painting by Nina Yankowitz: "Oh Say Can you See?"

The Woodstock Festival of 1969 was officially named the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. According to Michael Lang in Roots of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, the inclusion of “art” in the festival name was a nod to Woodstock, NY’s status as an art colony—beginning in the early 1900s with Byrdcliffe and the Maverick Festivals, and later with organizations like Group 212.

Recently I spoke by phone with Nina Yankowitz of nyartprojects about her days at Group 212. A 1969 Fine Arts graduate of the School of Visual Arts, Yankowitz doesn’t recall where she first heard about the fusion collective, but she says that word about it was on the street in NYC’s Greenwich Village. Nina loved Group 212’s fearless collaborative spirit, and remembers that she first installed her draped paintings on the trees in the surrounding Group 212 landscape. She says that Group 212’s propulsive and adventurous style of mixing music, painting, sculpture, photography, electronic sounds, poetry, and performance art opened her up to embrace new technologies and emerging artistic disciplines. For example, she met Ken Werner, a musician, at 212 in the summer of 1968, and she recalls their collaboration. Werner made an audio rendition to realize Nina’s desire to include sound that would mimic the musical score, Oh Say Can You See, on her draped canvas. This embodied the concept of hearing and seeing sounds as they unfolded from her draped paintings. The installation was exhibited later that year at Kornblee Gallery in New York City.

Nina Yankowitz Dancing at Group 212

Nina Yankowitz (in Foreground) Dancing at Group 212

Yankowitz remembers running to catch the bus to Greenwich Village from South Orange Junior High School in New Jersey. She would sneak out of school to attend performances by Dylan and Hugh Romney at the Cafe Wha in the Village, returning without her delinquency having been discovered. Her later Woodstock experience put her in touch with many new and exciting musicians and artistic collaborators. She met people like Sunny Murray, Dave Burrell, and Chuck Santon—an artist who spent most of his time at Robert Wilson‘s Byrdcliffe, devoted to experimental workshops/productions. She also met musician Juma Sultan, and it was he who encouraged Nina and a friend to dance while Juma, Archie Shepp, Sunny Murray, and Dave Burrell were jamming. She remembers the music director wanting to “pull the cane around our necks!” Juma also took her to Byrdcliffe to meet Bob Dylan, and they, with others from the community, attended a Sound-Out at Pan Copeland’s farm. Yankowitz recalls people jumping through the fences, lying on the grass and watching acts like Tim Hardin and Ritchie Havens.

One detail eludes Nina about her time at Group 212. She remembers a friend there who created marvelous performances based upon the myth of Icarus. He also made beautiful photographs with his box camera, and she wonders what happened to the fellow who created and played this bird-man role. Can anyone help her out on that?

~Weston Blelock