Rivington School propagandist Monty Cantsin held at U.S. border

BY SARAH FERGUSON | Scores of folk turned out on Dec. 8 to celebrate the long-awaited compendium “Rivington School: 80s New York Underground” (Black Dog Publishing) — a just-released survey of that ill-begotten gang of scrap metal, graffiti and performance artists who once epitomized the irreverent down-and-out aesthetic of the Lower East Side.

Performance artist Angel Eyedealism kicked off the Dec. 8 book launch event for the new tome on the Rivington School with a book burning — a traditional act by the iconoclastic group of Lower East Side artists. Usually Monty Cantsin does the honors, but he was not available this time, having been detained at the Canadian border. Photo by Clayton Patterson

But the star of the show, editor and chief Riv School propagandist Istvan Kantor, was M.I.A.

Kantor, a.k.a. Monty Cantsin, was slated to engage in a ritual burning of the first copy of the “Riv” book outside the Howl! Happening gallery on E. First St. — part of a week of readings and performances exploring the legacy and impact of this anti-art movement on the LES.

Monty Cantsin photographed in Clayton Patterson’s Clayton Gallery and Outlaw Art Museum. Photo by Clayton Patterson

But Kantor, who now lives in Toronto, was unexpectedly turned back at the Canadian border by U.S. Customs agents, who were put off by the agitprop materials he was carrying.

According to Kantor, the agents in Buffalo, N.Y., became alarmed when they found sealed packages of hypodermic needles in his luggage. Kantor is renowned for his “blood art” — using his own blood to splatter walls in museums like the MoMA to protest the “commodification” of art — and has been arrested numerous times both here and abroad.

Cantsin’s suitcase full of agitprop materials caught the eye of U.S. Customs agents.

He says the customs agents were also irked by the megaphone bearing Kantor’s trademark “Neoism” slogan, along with his Nazi-like cap, Chinese security armbands and red flag — all props for the satirical performances he planned to stage.

Although Kantor has been detained at the border before, he says he’s had no trouble coming into the U.S. in the last three years. But this was different.

Angel Eyedealism performing at the book launch party. Photo by Clayton Patterson

“They took me and my girlfriend to a special room for fingerprints and mugshots,” he said, “and that’s where the more serious questioning began — especially about my travels in China,” where Kantor has been teaching multimedia art. “They wanted to know if I had visited Pakistan, Libya, Palestine and other Middle Eastern countries.”

A burning passion for their art. Rivington School artists ignite stuff on E. First St. before their book launch party at HOWL! Happening gallery. Photo by Clayton Patterson

After three hours of grilling, Kantor and his girlfriend were put in a car and taken across the border, where they were forced to take a $220 cab ride back to Toronto because it was 4 a.m.

“We never got a concrete explanation or piece of paper or anything to explain why we were turned away,” Kantor said.

Undaunted, Kantor says he’s hoping to try again in February, when Howl! Happening is hosting the Acker Awards — this year he’s a recipient. But this time, he plans to leave his needles and props behind.

The new book's impressive roster of LES artists. Photo by Clayton Patterson
The new book’s impressive roster of LES artists. Photo by Clayton Patterson