It’s been 27 years since our old friend, ’80s nightlife documentarian Nelson Sullivan, passed away. Nelson’s work was hugely influential to everybody at WoW. So much so, that back in the early ’90s, Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey made a documentary about their friend, titling it Nelson Sullivan’s World of Wonder. Later, when naming their production company, they decided upon World of Wonder as a tribute to him.
Now, Nelson is getting some love at a group show at the Night Gallery here in Los Angeles.
May 28 – June 25
Featuring work by:
Opens Saturday May 28th
Night Gallery is proud to present Aunt Nancy, an exhibition of work by Alexandra Noel, Andy Robert, Anna Rosen, Chloe Seibert, Nelson Sullivan, and Sam Lipp. Aunt Nancy is titled after the aunt of Nelson Sullivan, whose prolific video practice documented his life and friends in downtown New York in the 1980s, as well as visits to his hometown of Kershaw, South Carolina, where Nancy lived.
Aunt Nancy appears in many of Sullivan’s videos, presented as a simultaneously sympathetic, strong, and vulnerable figure. The works included in the exhibition were created from personal memories, found photographs, knick knacks, and the art of storytelling. Nelson Sullivan’s portrayal of Aunt Nancy embodies a number of interpersonal dynamics underlying the works in the show: parent to child, adult self to childhood memory, and self to home—that is, the hometown you find yourself in versus the home that you make for yourself as an adult.
Sam Lipp was born in 1989, and lives and works in New York. Recent exhibitions include X Bienal de Nicaragua, Managua; Balice Hertling, Paris; Ellis King, Dublin; Éric Hussenot, Paris; Central Fine, Miami; Neochrome, Turin; Bodega, New York; and Arcadia Missa, London. Lipp is also the co-director of Queer Thoughts, a gallery in NYC.
Anna Rosen was born in 1984 in Arlington, VA, and received her BFA from RISD in 2006 and her MFA from Columbia University in 2010. Rosen has been included in exhibitions at Silberkuppe, Berlin; and at Murray Guy, American Medium, and Derek Eller Gallery, New York. In 2016, she will have a solo exhibition at Kerry Schuss, New York, and will also be included in exhibitions at Lyles & King, New York, and at Night Gallery, Los Angeles. She had a two-person exhibition with the artist John Miller at Malraux’s Place, Brooklyn, in 2014, and a solo exhibition at Night Gallery in 2013. Rosen is based in New York.
Chloe Seibert was born in New York in 1989, and lives and works in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include Balice Hertling, Paris; Efrain Lopez, Chicago; American Medium, Brooklyn; COOPER COLE, Toronto; and Atlanta Contemporary. Upcoming exhibitions include Queer Thoughts, New York; and Courtney Blades, Chicago.
Nelson Sullivan was born in 1948 in Kershaw, SC, and lived in New York during the 1980s, where he documented the now-legendary Downtown scene in a prolific and seminal body of videos. His work has been featured in numerous film festivals in the United States and Europe, and has also been shown in museum and gallery exhibitions, most recently Greater New York at MoMA P.S.1 in 2015-16. Sullivan died in New York on July 4, 1989.
Alexandra Noel was born in 1989, and lives and works in Los Angeles. Recent exhibitions include Bodega, New York; Neochrome, Turin; Hester, New York; and Shanaynay, Paris. Her first book By Rote was published by Holoholo Books in 2015.
Andy Robert was born in 1984 in Les Cayes, Haiti, and received his MFA from California Institute of the Arts in 2011. He attended the Whitney Independent Study Program in 2014-2015, and in summer of 2016 will attend Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Robert has exhibited at the Bienal de las Fronteras (Instituto Tamaulipeco para la Cultura y las Artes) in Tamaulipas, Mexico, Papillion Art in Los Angeles, Dimensions Variable in Miami, and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. Robert is a recipient of the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant, and he is based in Los Angeles.
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Watch the trailer for Nelson Sullivan’s World of Wonder, below:
When New York City’s dilapidated downtown was starting to wake up and smell the cocaine, the South Carolina expatriate Nelson Sullivan had already quit his music-store job, moved into an old building in the Meatpacking District (where all manner of meat was still being packed), and begun videotaping 24/7 what would become the city’s most decadent decade: the 1980s. With his old-school camcorder strapped to his shoulder like a third arm, Nelson manouvered through streets and past doormen, getting up-close and personal with the big and small stars of the new scene, all the while providing a continuous chatty narration in his southern drawl, y’all. He was always welcome, whether it was backstage with the Pyramid drag queens, at Limelight with the clubkids, or visiting Sylvia Miles in her kitchen. Everyone felt comfortable talking to him and his camera. Over the course of his short life (after making an eerily prophetic tape sitting by the Hudson River on July 3, 1989, he died suddenly of a heart attack at age 41 the next day), he had amassed nearly 1,500 hours of tape, the footage including the likes of everyone from Andy Warhol to Keith Haring to John Sex to Cookie Mueller to Deee-Lite to a not-yet-famous RuPaul (always a delight!) to drag queen Christina and other denizens of the Chelsea Hotel to anyone who was anyone, which in those days was everyone. -Stephan Saban
Above photo from the World According to Wonder: Nelson (with trusty video camera) and from top, left: Michael Musto, Trade, David Goldman aka Betty Jack DeVine, Albert Crudo, Randy Barbato, RuPaul Charles, and Fenton Bailey, photographed by Dick Richards outside his Atlanta home.
“At the time, we were broke, living in a sixth-floor walk-up in crack-infested Alphabet City. It had that inverse kind of glamour that people bedazzle as ‘bohemian’: drug dealers, addicts, hookers, and even a psychotic murderer. The fag-end of the American dream. We loved almost every minute of it!
“There was a lone club, the Pyramid, on Avenue A and 7th Street – the very edge of civilization. There was something about the place. It pulled people in. Fabulous drag artistes. Hapi Phace. Tabboo. Faye Runway. Sister Dimension. Lypsinka. And occasionally, from Atlanta, the not-yet-famous RuPaul and Lady Bunny. Todd Haynes debuted his notorious Karen Carpenter film there. Victor Weaver and Trey Speegle hosted “Straight to Hell” strip parties on Sunday nights. And on hand almost every night was Nelson Sullivan, a gentleman charmer with the most languid southern drawl and a fag in his mouth, videotaping everyone and everything.
“That camera was like a pirate’s parrot, permanently perched on his shoulder. He said that one day he was going to edit his thousands of hours of material into a public access cable show. But on July 4, 1989, he dropped dead of a heart attack. Nelson’s death was our call to action. We didn’t really know what public access was, but we soon learned. Cable companies had to make a couple of channels available for local community access. In other words, people could make their own shows and get them on TV. Simple as that. They could be about whatever they wanted them to be. There was no editorial screening process. Slots were assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Manhattan’s public access channels presented a glittering seam of talent. Willa Sands – possibly tipsy – hosting Happy Hour. John Wallowitch – no less tipsy – banging out “Sing Along in Lithuanian” on the piano and knocking back Long Island Iced Teas. He was friends with Warhol, reportedly. Mrs Mouth, who painted a face on her upside-down chin then talked about picking her nose. And, for the adults, Voyeur Vision, where viewers could call in and talk to comely Lynn lying on a bed, touching herself where they requested. And veteran fixture Robin Byrd, in her trademark crocheted bikini, introducing strippers.
“It was pure Videodrome, but without the inconvenience of sprouting a video vagina. We figured there was no reason we couldn’t make a public access show, so we came up with the idea of Flaunt It! TV, a talk show taped once a week at New York’s Limelight nightclub, and hosted by us. Quentin Crisp, Kate O’Toole, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Michelangelo Signorile, Michael Musto, and a monosyllabic Stephen Saban were some of the long-suffering guests on the short-lived show. It wasn’t exactly ratings gold. It ran for four episodes before we collapsed in exhaustion, followed by a prolonged period of deep depression. Not that failure ever stopped us. In the long run it was our fuel.”