The Gate Theater and The Black Gate Theater, c1967. Photo by Jesse Fernandez,
Reproduced from arts/canada issue no 113 (Oct 67),

[manuscript in progress]

Aldo Tambellini, The Gate and The Black Gate Theaters:
Venues for Experimental Film and Intermedia Performances, New York City Lower East Side 1965-1968

by Amelia Ishmael
2013 – Current

Until now, a comprehensive written history of Aldo Tambellini's alternative-art venues The Gate and The Black Gate Cinema has not existed, though increasing mention in arts publications focusing on Tambellini's oeuvre and those also of the artists who exhibited and performed there has made the need for such a history clear.

Inaugurated with the week-long New Vision Festival, in protest to the elitism and exclusivity of the 4th New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center in September 1966, The Gate Theater was a leading cinema for underground and avant-garde film from 1966-1968. Directed by Elsa Tambellini, former artistic producer of The Bridge, The Gate Theater brought independent films by artists such as George and Mike Kuchar, Jud Yalkut, Takahiko Iimura, Marie Menken, Jack Smith, Robert Downey Sr., Peter Campus, and Bruce Conner to the Lower East Side community, providing a venue for international experimental filmmakers who wouldn't otherwise have a place to share their work, and creating a community that later artists such as the cult film director John Waters would herald.

In March 1967, Aldo Tambellini and Otto Piene founded The Black Gate Theater as New York City's only venue for Electromedia performances. Devoted to works in progress, the theater focused on the emerging fields of expanded cinema, intermedia, and electronic arts. Featuring early performances by artists including Yayoi Kusama, Joe Jones, Takehisa Kosugi, Takahiko Iimura, USCO, Nam June Paik, and Charlotte Moorman.

The history of these artist-run venues offers a history of experimental arts of the late 1960s in New York City's Lower East Side that has been omitted and buried in 50 years of dust. Additionally, this monograph works towards recapturing an expanded view of the Lower East Side arts community that The Gate and The Black Gate Theaters acted within--including Umbra, The Bridge Theater, Group Center, New York jazz, and black off-Broadway theater--as well as the New York years of Aldo Tambellini, a pioneer of intermedia art who has only within the last five years experienced revived international interest. The monograph "The Black Gate Theater: Aldo Tambellini and the Early Histories of Intermedia-Performance Art and Independent Film in New York City in the 1960s, A Historic Revaluation of Experimental-Arts Venues, Including The Bridge Theater and The Gate Theater" will uncover this underground history and reveal new connections to that which we thought we knew.


In order to talk about The Black Gate Theater, I have to first talk about The Gate Theater. And to talk about The Gate Theater I have to first introduce The Bridge Theater. But, in order to talk about any of these I must first introduce Aldo Tambellini, the artist who ties the histories of these venues together. For history is recovered backwards; in order to start from the beginning, we must often invert our itinerary.

The 1960s was a time of vast experimentations in the arts, and artists were eager to establish alternative-arts venues where they could develop and premier new theater, new cinema, new dance, new music, and all of the hybrids of intermedia arts in between. Anyone with any interest in the arts of New York City in the 1970s knows about the multiple projections and blasting-rock music of Andy Warhol’s Electric Circus, and of Steina and Woody Vasulka’s intermedia venue The Kitchen. If you are interested in dance, you know of the Merce Cunningham Studio and Judson Dance Workshops. If you are interested in film and video you know of the Film-maker’s Coop and Electronic Arts Intermix. We know these names and places because these venues and their reputations have survived through the trials of history.

But what came before these venues? What has been lost or forgotten? When I begun talking with Aldo Tambellini in 2011 his memories included an abundance of places and artists that I had not heard of before. It became clear to me that there was a rich history of independent film and intermedia arts that could be found in the underground-art venues and communities of the Lower East Side that ran parallel to the histories of those which have made it into the dominant art-history cannons of the 1960s. Our conversations provided me with an impetus to bridge together and uncover the lost histories of independent film and intermedia arts. What happened? When? Who participated? It has not been an easy hunt. I began looking into the histories of The Black Gate Theater, yet most of the writings that I found that made passing mention of the events had the wrong dates, the wrong names, and the wrong venues. Within the abundance of false starts though, an accuracy would eventually float to the top, and each time that I found the correct information and searched further I discovered more exciting details and networks.

This publication offers the result of years of writing and research. Part I focuses Aldo Tambellini and his early career following his move to the Lower East Side in 1959. I describe the arts communities that he participated with and among, including his work with the Umbra poets, Group Center, and his curatorial activities. Part II focuses on The Bridge Theater, a venue that opened in 1965 for underground film—as well as experiments in dance, theater, and music—where Aldo Tambellini gave some of the earliest performances of his intermedia performances and screened his films, and where Elsa Tambellini worked as Artistic Coordinator before founding The Gate Theater. Though short lived, the history of The Bridge Theater and the featured exhibitions provide us witha specific background and context within which The Gate Theater and The Black Gate Theater developed. Part III focuses on The Gate Theater, a venue for independent and underground film. I provide here a prehistoric context, a full-program list, and chapters based thematically on pertinent issues and events that occurred. Finally, Part IV provides a detailed history of The Black Gate Theater, an Electromedia performance theater located upstairs from The Gate Theater, which Aldo Tambellini founded in 1967 with Otto Piene. I include here a chapter detailing each of the performative events. Within this publication are the first comprehensive histories of each of these three arts venues, accounting for each of their significance and valuable place within the history of new-media art.

Proposed Contents

Part I. Aldo Tambellini and His Community
Aldo Tambellini Moves to the Lower East Side
10th Street Galleries and Aldo Tambellini’s Sculpture Park
UMBRA and Spiral Group
Group Center and Ben Morea
Aldo Tambellini and Black
A Prehistory of Electromedia Theater, before 1965
Kinetic Art, Light Art, Art & Technology, and Psychedelic Art in New York City Venues
Independent Film, venues of New York City in the 1960s, and Film Clubs

Part II. The Bridge Theater
A Prehistory, and then a History
The Bridge Theater: Program Listing
Concerts: The Fugs, Avant-garde music, Jazz
Experimental Theater & Performance Art
Dance: Judith Dunn, Trisha Brown, Beverly Schmidt, Carolee Schneemann, etc
Experimental Films, Animation, Oldies, Bridge Cinema Group
Intermedia Performances: Weegee, Aldo Tambellini, Film-Sound, FilmStage, Live Eye Jazz, Kenneth King, Jackie Cassen
Black 2, Aldo Tambellini
Outfall in Washington Square Park
Aldo Tambellini’s Black and The New Cinema Festival
Night Crawlers at the Bridge: The Nightcrawlers Benefit, the Battle with the Department of Licenses

Part III. The Gate Theater
A Prehistory, and then a History
Listings: Steve Pekart and Steve Wangh’s programming at The Gate Theater
The New Vision Festival
Program Listings and Ads: The Gate Theater
Angry Arts Week
Bruce Conner Cosmic Ray
Japanese Experimental Film: Takahiko Iimura, Masanori Oe
Experiments in Dance on Film
Jack Smith’s Performative Film Screenings
The Brothel and Elsa Tambellini’s Appeal to the Community
Underground German Films, Curated by Jurgen Klaus
Theater of the Ridiculous and alternative events, Listings

Part IV. The Black Gate Theater
The Proliferation of the Sun, Otto Piene; Blackout, Aldo Tambellini
SUBTERRAINIA, Preston McClanahan
Mano Dharma, Takehisa Kosugi
Shelter 9999, Takahiko Iimura and Alvin Lucier
Openings, USCO
Music, dance, shadows, light, film, Mary McKay and Calo Scott, with Cassandra Einstein
Self Obliteration, Yayoi Kusama, with Joe Jones
Come Go Return, Part 1: Nam June Paik, Takehisa Kosugi, and Charlotte Moorman, with Jud Yalkut
Come Go Return, Part 2: Scandinavian Avant Garde II
Black Air, Otto Piene & Aldo Tambellini
Toshio Matsumoto and Takahiko Iimura
Black Sound 1, Aldo Tambellini & Michael Sahl; and NOW, Jacques Bekaert, David Behrman, and Charlotte Warren
Appendix: Black Theater at The Gate

Photo by Anna Salamone, 2013.

Supported in part by a 2018 Individual Artists Program Grant for Professional Advancement & Creative Research, City of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events