I cringe at talk about the good ol' days, when folks go on about how their generation really rocked the establishment with their bold art and even bolder ways of having a sinfully outrageous time. I try, sometimes in vain, to personally refrain from such nostalgic bellyaching. But even the teens at Saturday night's opening of East Village West at Royal/T in Culver City had to give it up to their eternally cool elders Ann Magnuson and Kenny Scharf, the curators and creators of the eye-popping, mind-prickling round-up of the originators and instigators of New York's neo-Dadaist scene in the late 1970s (that's Ann and Kenny below back in the day, and above with opening night collaborator Bryan Rabin).
Represented in this chaos-before-cash days are works by artists such as Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tseng Kwong Chi, John Sex, Kitty Brophy, Bruno Schmidt, Frank Holliday, Stefano Castonova, Nancy A. Kintisch, Greer Lankton, Paul Munroe, among others. The assmeblage, on view through this December, provides a peep-hole view of the wild life happening then in dingy nightclubs, dirt-cheap lofts, store windows such as Fiorucci and on the dirty boulevard.
The influence of California pop culture on that movement is at the heart of the show, hitching onto that bullet train, Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980, the groundbreaking citywide art celebration taking place in art institutions, galleries and even the streets of the Southland. The first-round of parties kicked off this weekend, and clearly Royal/T owner Susan Hancock was not going to leave her 10,000-square-foot space dark during this historic chapter in the city's modern art history.
Ann and Kenny dug deep into their rich, personal archives, as well as those from friends such as Howie Pyro, the former D Generation and Danzig bassist who continues to blow away our ears with his incredible vinyl collection, at parties and on Intoxica Radio. Howie is a collector/horder after my own heart and has kept quite a bit of club flyers and other ephemera all these decades. On the green guitar-patterned jacket he was sporting at the Royal/T party: "I bought this in 1978 and this is the first time I'm wearing it!" he proudly told me just as he set the needle on Little Richard's "The Girl Can't Help It" (damn, I've always loved that song!).
Yet what might be the finest piece of Howie's collection was behind glass: a motorcycle cap that his late friend Keith Haring scribbled all over the black leather in silver Sharpie.
Further proof that it's not always wise to toss that old thing out of the closet was Ann's green bubble dress by another, sadly, late great visionary of the day, Stephen Sprouse. "It was the very last sale at his original boutique and I so wanted it—but it was $150! That was a lot of money for me in those days," Ann shared with me. "Well, [Paper magazine editor in chief] Kim Hastreiter said, 'Ann you have to get it. You just have to.' I'm so very glad I listened!"
Amen. And, of course, Ann still has the body to pull it off.
We arrived at the shindig as the doors opened, and a line was already primed to get in. The crowd swelled in size with every neon blue cocktail served.
In the "private room" in the middle of the Royal/T space, the curtains were up so everyone on the other side of the glass walls could ogle the behind-the-scenes "happening" of a bunch of PYTs (that'd be punk young things in this context) who were getting new wave makeovers by electric airbrushing and credit card blush with make-up courtesy of MAC. Entitled "California New Wave," it was a participatory performance installation with Andrew Marlin, Taryn Nicole Piana, Squeaky Blonde and Fade-DraA. Fully made-up and hair sprayed to the heavens, each one took to the seamless to be photographed by Austin Young.
Other East Village-Cali New Wave-inspired action Saturday night included performances on the back hall stage by Prince Poppycock, Drag king Mo B. Dick as John Sex along with "his" Bodacious Ta-Tas, Timur of the Dime Museum and Stacy Dawson Stearns and The Psych-Out Dada Go-Go Dancers. Besides the goose bumps, these kids are evidence that the spirit continues.
Let's hope Ann, Kenny and the entire cast of beautiful characters catch their breath soon and stage more of this blast from the past shenanigans. Whether you love the aesthetics of their collective work is not the point. Spotlighting the very essence of their productivity, which was conjured up from some place deep as if their very lives depended on it is why it's relevant now. It's also why getting to see this legacy up close and building on it the way that Mo B and Prince Poppycock are matters. The future is counting on it…
"Sachmo" by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The late artist came to prominence with fellow late artist Keith Haring and still very-alive and creating Kenny Scharf, the only one of the three born on the West Coast—in his case, Hollywood.
There in Spirit: The late, great avant-garde provocateur Klaus Nomi is well represented at the show, from his outlandish costumes to posters (below) and video—because he was, after all, about the performance. At Club 57, where Ann played host, Klaus recruited Kenny, Jon Sex, Haring, Basquiat and a host of other characters into the act.
Drag king Mo B. was among the many Technicolor acts who turned the place upside down and inside out for the show's opening night. She-he channeled John Sex, whose posters and other ephemera were part of the installation.
A revival of film noir, three-chord roots rock and the simple reason that the old stuff was cheap were among the reasons why the rebels of the late 1970s plundered 1950s ephemera, music and fashion and made it their own.
What's more, as the spawn of the post-war generation, those individuals who escaped their avocado green-colored suburbia in the mid-1970s through early 1980s for the grungey promise of New York City found sardonic revelation and plenty of source material in the vintage artificats of their parents. And this guide just takes the cheesecake.
Kenny Scharf's upbringing in Hollywood and the Valley and on the retro-future view of TV deliciously deranged his creative process touching a high-kitsch pastiche of graffiti drawing, uber-vivid assemblages and out-this-world characters.
Center, our grand fairy godmother, Annie Flanders, who began chronicling the downtown NYC scene with the SoHo News and later Details. Surrounding the Eternal Flame that is Annie is Robert Russell, Lisa Edelstein, Bryan Rabin, Rose Apodaca (yea, me) and Andy Griffith.
It wasn't just New York City where that DIY mindset was thriving: fresh from Philly in L.A. in the early 1980s, Tom Neas—here with his wife Susan—pointed his lens at the burgeoning underclub scene in L.A. and Orange County, chronicling them all in the staple-bounded More Mayonnaise 'zine.
F Francisco George in Jeremy Scott…Rrrrr!
Cheyann Benedict and photographer Phillipe McClellan
We're turning into an old married couple as we continue to dress similarly. In this case, Andy pulled out his vintage Helmut Lang leather and I walked out of my dressing room wearing a new Helmut Lang dress. Coincidence?
Off to our next adventure.
Archival B+W Photo of Ann Magnuson and Kenny Scharf by Lina Bertucci
ALL other photos by Rose Apodaca and cannot be borrowed, stolen or used without permission.