Was yesterday May 10, 2005 or May 10,1985? It was a little hard to tell, as the crowd that made New York tick in the last decade of real artistic freedom reigned down at Avalanche Gallery, for the opening reception for We Were The Eighties: Art from the Decade of Excess in NYC. The exhibition is a multi-media event of photography (Patrick McMullan, Lizzard Soufflé, Paula Gately Tillman), painting (Christina, Albert Crudo) and video (Nelson Sullivan). At the opening, energy was high and the exhibit sparkled like a jewel, each work perfectly capturing the magic of that incredibly unforgettable era.
In the foyer of the gallery is one of the last portraits of Quintin Crisp, by Soufflé. The Gay Father of us all (decades before Stonewall) said, It doesnt matter what other people think of you; what matters is what you think of yourself. And this motto that the artists/celebrities/celebutants prowling the NY clubs at the time lived by also sums up the show quite nicely. There’s absolutely no questioning what these personalities thought of themselves.
In the gallery proper, two works by Christina, on loan from the collection of Larry Tee, assault the senses from every direction. Christina, a transgender from either Pittsburgh or Germany (she couldnt remember), created work revealing the inner conflict of being born one sex and wanting to be the other, compounded by a burning desire to be the next Warhol superstar. Unable to attract Andy’s attention, try as she might, going so far as to de-wig him at his 86 Fiorucci book-signing, she became the muse of videographer Sullivan.
McMullan arrived early; the show was his first stop on a long evening of events he was committed to attending. He set the mood by showering the colorful crowd with his magical flashes, each subject knowing that they had just been documented for all eternity by one of the most widely respected (and liked) photographers in the world. This set the surreal tone of the evening – Patrick photographing a new wave of celebrity while his captivating black-and-whites on metallic paper sparkled like the superstars he’d captured in the past on the wall behind him. The photographs are amazing – big name celebrities caught rubbing elbows with the fabulous freaks of the night. This is one of the major aspects that gave the whole era its bizarre Fellini-like quality. There’s Joan Collins, oh my God, it’s Sly Stallone, and wait, isn’t that James St. James behind him in a K-hole? Sheer genius!
Madonna (got your attention?). Okay, she wasn’t there – in person anyway, but the ’80s club scene is when and where the she honed her act before busting it into the big time and Crudo (that’s me!) has captured the Material Girl as no one else has (in the thousands upon thousands of images of her MADGEsty), in his oil painting McDonna: Over a Billion Serviced. To try and describe this painting would be futile, it must be seen to be fully appreciated. Let’s just say Madonna, Ronald McDonald, some genetic splicing, and voila! Other works by Crudo in the show – The Cupcake of Prague (the Baroness Sherry Von Korber’s favorite), Empire State Budding, and the soft sculpture Barbie Poo – all surreal, all demented, all the time.
The elegant portraits by Tillman capture the likes of such celebs in the making (then) as RuPaul, Michael Musto, and World of Wonder’s own power titans Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey. Stark black-and-whites, these images are a sneak peek at the real people behind the glamour. The photographer was in attendance at the opening, with the whole Maryland Historic Society and Snooky of Manic Panic (THE East Village boutique of the time), all oohing and ahhing over the work.
At one point, things got a little psychologically damaging and the Lady Bunny was right in the middle of it. First, she in a portrait by Soufflé; then she’s running around and camping it up in one of Sullivan’s vintage super-8s; then she’s materializing before our very eyes, larger than life (wig-wise that is, biotch!), the glamazon herself! Storming in, making the ladies from Maryland feel a little faint, causing babies to cry and ex-Marines beg to have their pictures taken with her. And then, like that, she’s gone, off to a gig. That cwazy wabbit!
The Soufflé glamour portrait of Bunny kept the crowd as rapt as the original. Other Soufflé shots, of Leigh Bowery, Kenny Kenny II, and Ru read like a veritable Who’s Who of New York nightlife luminaries. Lit with the skill and precision of a great classically trained photographer, they look like Horst on acid – but instead of Marlene Dietrich smoldering at the lens, you have Bowery in a Freudian fuck-up outfit, part human, part alien, part man, woman, and child!
Nick Scotti (the hottie star of New York Nick on The Style Network) entered with his entourage and was captivated by the Nelson Sullivan video that played inside the gallery on a life-size rear-projection screen. Outside on the lanai, the video projected larger-than-life on an adjacent brick wall – the amazing effect of Nelson’s video becoming one with the actual city was not lost on Steve Lafreniere of Index magazine. He marveled at the articulated camera work of Sullivan and the genius curating, editing, and remastering of the tapes by Robert Coddington, who had flown in from LA to attend the opening. Dick Richards of Funtone USA was on hand to document the spectacle for posterity, since Nellie wasnt around to do it himself. Brandywine and Brenda A-Go-Go watched, reminisced, and greeted their adoring fans.
Sullivan’s videos are the cornerstone of the show; they capture all the rest of the works as they were being created, so not only do you see the finished product, you get a peek behind the scenes and see the magic becoming reality – or as close to reality as it gets with this zany cast of characters.
The show runs at least through June 3, 2005, and intense interest has the gallery already considering extending it. It’s a must-see for anyone who wants to experience the energy and creativity of that era for themselves. Again.
– Albert Crudo
Avalanche Gallery, 39 East 31st Street, NYC 212.447.9485