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I've Seen the Future and I'm Not Going: The Art Scene and Downtown New York in the 1980s

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Brilliantly funny, frank, and shattering, this is the bittersweet memoir by Peter McGough of his life with artist David McDermott. Set in New York's Lower East Side of the 1980s and mid-1990s, it is also a devastatingly candid look at the extreme naivet and dysfunction that would destroy both their lives. Escaping the trauma of growing up gay in Syracuse and being bullied Brilliantly funny, frank, and shattering, this is the bittersweet memoir by Peter McGough of his life with artist David McDermott. Set in New York's Lower East Side of the 1980s and mid-1990s, it is also a devastatingly candid look at the extreme naivet� and dysfunction that would destroy both their lives. Escaping the trauma of growing up gay in Syracuse and being bullied at school, McGough attended art school in New York, dropped out, and took jobs in clubs, where he met McDermott. Dazzled by McDermott, whom he found fascinating and worldly, McGough agreed to collaborate with him not only on their art but also in McDermott's very entertaining Victorian lifestyle. McGough evokes the rank and seedy East Village of that time, where he encountered Keith Haring, Rene Ricard, Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Jacqueline and Julian Schnabel, among many others. Nights were spent at the Ninth Circle, Danceteria, and Studio 54; going to openings at the FUN Gallery; or visiting friends in the Chelsea Hotel. By the mid-1980s, McDermott & McGough were hugely successful, showing at three Whitney Biennials, represented by the best galleries here and abroad, and known for their painting, photography and "time experiment" interiors. Then, overnight, it was all gone. And one day in the mid-1990s, McGough would find that he, like so many of his friends, had been diagnosed with AIDS. I've Seen the Future and I'm Not Going is a compelling memoir for our time, told with humor and compassion, about how lives can become completely entwined even in failure and what it costs to reemerge, phoenix-like, and carry on.


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Brilliantly funny, frank, and shattering, this is the bittersweet memoir by Peter McGough of his life with artist David McDermott. Set in New York's Lower East Side of the 1980s and mid-1990s, it is also a devastatingly candid look at the extreme naivet and dysfunction that would destroy both their lives. Escaping the trauma of growing up gay in Syracuse and being bullied Brilliantly funny, frank, and shattering, this is the bittersweet memoir by Peter McGough of his life with artist David McDermott. Set in New York's Lower East Side of the 1980s and mid-1990s, it is also a devastatingly candid look at the extreme naivet� and dysfunction that would destroy both their lives. Escaping the trauma of growing up gay in Syracuse and being bullied at school, McGough attended art school in New York, dropped out, and took jobs in clubs, where he met McDermott. Dazzled by McDermott, whom he found fascinating and worldly, McGough agreed to collaborate with him not only on their art but also in McDermott's very entertaining Victorian lifestyle. McGough evokes the rank and seedy East Village of that time, where he encountered Keith Haring, Rene Ricard, Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Jacqueline and Julian Schnabel, among many others. Nights were spent at the Ninth Circle, Danceteria, and Studio 54; going to openings at the FUN Gallery; or visiting friends in the Chelsea Hotel. By the mid-1980s, McDermott & McGough were hugely successful, showing at three Whitney Biennials, represented by the best galleries here and abroad, and known for their painting, photography and "time experiment" interiors. Then, overnight, it was all gone. And one day in the mid-1990s, McGough would find that he, like so many of his friends, had been diagnosed with AIDS. I've Seen the Future and I'm Not Going is a compelling memoir for our time, told with humor and compassion, about how lives can become completely entwined even in failure and what it costs to reemerge, phoenix-like, and carry on.

30 review for I've Seen the Future and I'm Not Going: The Art Scene and Downtown New York in the 1980s

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tosh

    I'm fascinated with Dandies, either from the past or contemporary times. McDermott & McGough are two artists that work as one, and their aesthetic is very much ignoring the 21st century and most of the 20th as well. I'm an admirer of their paintings as well as their obsession with the Victorian lifestyle. Extremism, as a choice has always fascinated me as well. By chance, I came upon Peter McGough's memoir, and it's a great piece of literature that places one in the world of New York City I'm fascinated with Dandies, either from the past or contemporary times. McDermott & McGough are two artists that work as one, and their aesthetic is very much ignoring the 21st century and most of the 20th as well. I'm an admirer of their paintings as well as their obsession with the Victorian lifestyle. Extremism, as a choice has always fascinated me as well. By chance, I came upon Peter McGough's memoir, and it's a great piece of literature that places one in the world of New York City circa the 1980s and 1990s. I knew very little of their lives, and like Gilbert & George, the other art duo, their lives were an exciting mystery to me. The more I don't know about them, the more I find attractive. Still, this memoir is also about the art planet of that era, and McGough is an excellent and very straight forward prose stylist. A delicate and sometimes disturbing narrative, but once I finished the book, the mystery now exposed, is also put me in a state of admiring the duo much more. Although one can point a finger against McDermott in certain aspects of their lives together, it is also a vibrant life. "I've Seen the Future and I'm Not Going" is a great companion piece to Duncan Hannah's "20th Century Boy, which is a flip of a coin. Soho, New York life, comes back to life (in print) and it's a scary but profound journey.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jim Razinha

    I received an electronic uncorrected proof of this for review from the publisher through Edelweiss. The photos in my copy were all gray-scale; I don't know if they will be in color in the published edition (I hope so...much of the art is lost without color.) The subtitle, The Art Scene and Downtown New York in the 1980s is what grabbed my attention. The title was pretty catchy as well. Thanks to some self-education and a fractional exposure, I have more than a casual awareness of my contemporary I received an electronic uncorrected proof of this for review from the publisher through Edelweiss. The photos in my copy were all gray-scale; I don't know if they will be in color in the published edition (I hope so...much of the art is lost without color.) The subtitle, The Art Scene and Downtown New York in the 1980s is what grabbed my attention. The title was pretty catchy as well. Thanks to some self-education and a fractional exposure, I have more than a casual awareness of my contemporary art world, and, again thanks to that self-education, a much more than fractional awareness that my awareness is... fractional. So I admit never having heard of McGough (or McDermott), despite his apparent prominence in that subtitle scene. The names he drops! Warhol, Madonna (before she hit big), Michael Kors, Lagerfeld... Some observations... About McDermott, who he refers to both as Davis and McD:He also told me, "Peter, you know I'm a genius." I'd never heard anyone say that, except for Truman Capote on some TV show.Maybe when he was writing this, McGough really had never heard the Stable Jeenyus proclaim it. On David, David was generous but often lacked normal people skills. He would say whatever popped into his head with no filter: "You look so fat," or "You got old."Throughout the entire memoir, that Davis was "on the spectrum" was obvious, but they didn't know it until the next to last page ("a few years back") Another book, another jumping off point, McGough talks about a 1928 book titled "The Game of Life and How to Play it" by Florence Scovel-Shinn and the role some of it played in helping him keep McD on a keel of some evenness. His description sounds interesting and I can check it out from Open Library and as I typed this I went from next on the waitlist to it being available. There's a lot of screaming. McGough says it - "I screamed" at someone, McD, people - a lot. He's open about his emotions. There is introspection: "Perhaps like most artists I was a mixture of absolute narcissism and crippling self-doubt, but I was eager to learn." Light bulb moments: "At the time I knew nothing about the art world and its intricate workings of collectors, agents, private dealers, art advisors, art critics, and the fine art of schmoozing." Oh, that last part! When AIDS and untime (I took a liberty with "untimely") took some of their friend:These three great friends and artists - Andy [Warhol], Jean-Michel [Basquiat], and Keith [Haring] - who were considered yesterday's news before they died, would all once again become best-selling artists, with Andy and Jean-Michel achieving auction records. McDermott imposed an austere lifestyle of only wearing 19th century clothing, living without electricity, vegan diets, raw food diets, Christian Science (which would prove, as one would expect, nearly fatal). Most of the people McGough talks about are described in terms of their attractiveness. "He was a beautiful boy" or "gorgeous" or "beautiful youth", "A rude Lauren Bacall came with a lovely Angelica Huston..." I don't know if it is deliberate crafted, affectation because of expectation, or a genuine component of his personality. It's a sad superficiality regardless of its source. A lot of time in the past and given that subtitle, I should have expected that. The end compressed a quarter of his life into a handful of pages. Despite the openness of his naivete, and vulnerable exposure of his many ups and down, I thought he was the most personal when he spoke of AIDS:It's almost impossible to convey to a young person today what it was like then, when so little was known about AIDS. I am happy for the person I never knew before reading his book that he finally saw reason and received the benefits of modern medication (McDermott was still screaming Christian Science.) He is alive with AIDS and still working.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    This is an interesting memoir by Peter McGough, an unusual artist, recalling how he left home as a young man and made his way into the New York art world. He and another aspiring artist, David McDermott, joined forces and created a very weird and interesting life together, living as though it were still the Victorian era. They used 19th-century processes in creating their art, both in painting and photography. They lived without using electricity, heat (except fireplaces) or anything plastic or This is an interesting memoir by Peter McGough, an unusual artist, recalling how he left home as a young man and made his way into the New York art world. He and another aspiring artist, David McDermott, joined forces and created a very weird and interesting life together, living as though it were still the Victorian era. They used 19th-century processes in creating their art, both in painting and photography. They lived without using electricity, heat (except fireplaces) or anything plastic or 20th-century. They were part of a group of artists that included Basquiat, Warhol, Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel, among others. When they were selling art and making money, they immediately spent it on renting more art spaces and buying antiques, antique cars, and historic buildings. When their art wasn't selling, or when the IRS went after them, they lost it all and started over. And over, and over. As the author said in a NY Times Magazine interview, "I don’t care if I own anything. I care about the art — the paintings living on, being protected." https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/16/t-... They survived the years of homophobia, the AIDS epidemic (although many of their artist friends didn't), the stylistic and financial changes in the late 20th-century art world, and their personal and financial ups and downs as a couple. The author certainly lived a unique life, and his story is strange and fun to read. A quote from the book: "After all the parties, collectors, curators, and critics, the only thing left is the work - that piece of art. All the personalities are forgotten. Art is History. Sure, it's great to be praised, but if one's in it for that, then there's no hope. It comes and goes and maybe comes back. The art world is a much bigger place than it was when I entered. I heard that Louise Bourgeois once said, 'Being an artist is not an enviable position'."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Madison

    I love reading books about this time period and group of artists, and this was a really unique narrative. McDermott & McGough’s work is so concerned with time and aesthetic, it was interesting to read the author struggling with modern day concerns while ostensibly living in the early 20th century. His writing is honest and reflective - the book was a fulfilling trip.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Koen

    Fairy interesting read about two artists i hadn't heard of and did not know anything about. The title caught my eye and i thought i'd give it a go. The book provides us with glimpse in to the lives of two eccentric artists in the 1980's downtown art world of New York. Narcissistic artists you could say. Even this memoir, written much later in life, is very self-centered and with both artists i get a sense of entitlement that sort of rubs me the wrong way. They also seem to have been utter idiots. Fairy interesting read about two artists i hadn't heard of and did not know anything about. The title caught my eye and i thought i'd give it a go. The book provides us with glimpse in to the lives of two eccentric artists in the 1980's downtown art world of New York. Narcissistic artists you could say. Even this memoir, written much later in life, is very self-centered and with both artists i get a sense of entitlement that sort of rubs me the wrong way. They also seem to have been utter idiots. Ending up with nothing after making so much money seems ridiculous. That doesn't per se make a bad book, i thought it was entertaining and interesting enough. I did not think it was as humorous as the blurb suggests and the writing style was a bit simple to me. "Then this happened, and then this happend, and then this, and, and....etc." I guess what i missed most was any insight in the art itself. There's barely anything about their art, deeper insights, processes, meanings, etc. All in all, an okay-ish book for me.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David

    This was an excellent memoir. Peter McGough brilliantly describes New York City in the 80s and 90s, the intricacies of a career in art, and the turmoils, joys, loves and heartbreak that make up the human condition. McGough is truly a survivor and his story is utterly absorbing. Comprised of masterful prose, it is amazing to think this is McGough’s first book. Highly recommended. And Peter, if you’re reading this, more please!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Leza

    I wouldn’t describe this as “brilliantly funny” (see the blurb) but it’s definitely an entertaining read especially for anyone interested in creative eccentrics, New York and the 80s art scene. Lots of big names dropped like Warhol and Basquiat but totally relevant to the time frame. The communal movement of artists and performers around the lower east side to old lofts and squats is fascinating....and wistfully romantic reading it now in shiny New York where I’m living for a couple of I wouldn’t describe this as “brilliantly funny” (see the blurb) but it’s definitely an entertaining read especially for anyone interested in creative eccentrics, New York and the 80s art scene. Lots of big names dropped like Warhol and Basquiat but totally relevant to the time frame. The communal movement of artists and performers around the lower east side to old lofts and squats is fascinating....and wistfully romantic reading it now in shiny New York where I’m living for a couple of years...amidst the rampant obliteration by developers of that area. There are still a few artists in rent control hanging on but that lifestyle has pretty much become impossible in modern New York. McGough and his partner David McDermott are contemporary artists and eccentric dandies moving from one derelict but often gorgeous property to another, “devinylising” them, wearing Victorian clothing and working together to produce some pretty interesting paintings and photographs (images included in the book). I’m English and they remind me a little of the English artists Gilbert and George though no similarity in their artwork. I really enjoyed the insight in to this period of the city; the iconic clubs, the gay scene, the squalor. The devastation of AIDS which predatorily tore through this society taking so many lives is well documented and poignant. I read it in a day and would recommend it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    It's hard to give this book a rating, because it's not really a "literary" book. It's more like a person's diary. I was mildly interested in learning about the lives of these artists in NYC in the 1980's but I really couldn't relate to the materialism that they fell into when they got a lot of money. And there were a lot of things I wanted to know that weren't covered. And if you are into "functional" relationships as opposed to "dysfunctional" relationships, then you won't be happy with this It's hard to give this book a rating, because it's not really a "literary" book. It's more like a person's diary. I was mildly interested in learning about the lives of these artists in NYC in the 1980's but I really couldn't relate to the materialism that they fell into when they got a lot of money. And there were a lot of things I wanted to know that weren't covered. And if you are into "functional" relationships as opposed to "dysfunctional" relationships, then you won't be happy with this couple's relationship. Why does the author stay with someone who is so controlling and demanding? He never really fills us in. Why does he agree to wear the period clothing? Why does he succumb to his boyfriend's unique and very specific worldview? He never really tells us. He is a famous artist, one whom I had never heard of before, but that's ok. I did like some of his art, especially the one with all the hateful words that he got called when he was growing up. Really, the part about him growing up was almost the best part and that was really short.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Antonio Depietro

    A totally fascinating and unique take on the 80s downtown New York Art Scene. I had never heard of McDermott & McGough, but they were friends and contemporaries of the other 80s art superstars like Schnabel, Scharf, Haring and Basquiat. They lived such strange and interesting lives- there needs to be a movie about this scene.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ava

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. the book offers a poignant and dryly funny look into the eighties art scene with ever-changing friends and apartments throughout New York in midst of the AIDS pandemic. simultaneously inspiring and depressing. love it

  11. 4 out of 5

    Blane

    A unique take on the AIDS plague epidemic/art world connection. Sort of similar to Alvin Orloff's 'Disasterama!', which I read immediately prior. If you are interested in the devastation wreaked by the early days of AIDS on the creative class, either/both are highly recommended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    D Fedele

    An interesting memoir that is diarist in style. I would have liked to read more detail about how Peter and McD's paintings evolved to the heights that they achieved. Sad, honest tale of the author's life.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Patricia L.

    I found this awfully repetitive. They kept moving apartments. I just couldn't finish the book. I couldn't relate at all.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jeimy

    Entertaining.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    Best book I’ve read in 2019. A candid look at true 1980s bohemians in NYC art world.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    Lots of great 1980s art world/ East Village scene gossip.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chris Reeves

    Truly a joy to read

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    Offers excellent insight into the art world of the 80s and 90s. You do occasionally get secondhand embarrassment from reading about cringe moments of the author’s relationship with McD.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    If you love bios --and history and art READ this book! A brave and touching story. I will leave it at that!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    FABULOUS BOOK.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Eugene Galt

    I mostly enjoyed this memoir of both the art world and the AIDS crisis in New York in the eighties. However, I had hoped for more insight into the creative process than I got. Also, most of the account of the author’s boyhood could have been cut with no loss to the overall memoir.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Randy Lakeman

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gaston

  24. 4 out of 5

    Russell Mattinson

  25. 4 out of 5

    Susan Mathieu

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mark Kane

  27. 5 out of 5

    Penelope

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Skoch

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alex Greenberger

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

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