Kenny Scharf’s move to the sunny climes of Los Angeles put an end to his Cosmic Cavern parties in Bushwick. But as you can see from his latest Instagram post, the onetime East Village artist has recreated the blacklit, day-glo play pen for an exhibit opening at MoMA on Halloween. “Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978–1983” will pay tribute to the legendary club and performance space in the basement of a Polish church on St. Marks Place.
Regulars and performers at Club 57 included Scharf as well as club curators Keith Haring and Anne Magnuson; hip-hop pioneer Fab Five Freddy; Klaus Nomi, the German opera singer and performance artist whose outré outfits preceded those of Lady Gaga by two decades; Joey Arias, the multi-talented drag queen who appeared alongside Nomi during David Bowie’s 1979 appearance on Saturday Night Live; and John Sex, the python-toting cabaret singer whose backup band, the Bodacious TaTas, included Wendy Wild. As recounted in the recently premiered Basquiat documentary, Boom For Real, Jean-Michel Basquiat also popped in, but wasn’t a fan of the place’s “shenanigans,” as Kenny Scharf put it. Instead, Basquiat gravitated toward that other downtown clubhouse, Mudd Club, because everyone at Club 57 “would be on psychedelics, bouncing around the walls, screaming,” Scharf said in the documentary.
Presumably, the MoMA exhibit will be strictly Bring Your Own Brownies. Then again, Scharf insists his Cosmic Caverns can bring you to a higher state of consciousness even without drugs. The pop surrealist created the first version in 1981, hauling some detritus into the closet of the Times Square pad he shared with Keith Haring, and painting it fluorescent. They got kicked out of the “crazy old house” after “a stabbing victim walked into one of our parties and bled all over,” Scharf explained to Apartamento. “The cops were there and the madness and chaos led to our eviction.” Haring moved to the Lower East Side; Scharf moved to East 9th Street and brought his fluorescent “all-night dance freakathons” everywhere from the Whitney to the VIP room at The Tunnel nightclub. The blacklit cavern has even spawned tributes in Bushwick.
As for the rest of the “Club 57” show, MoMA’s press release promises the exhibit, in the Roy and Niuta Titus Theater Galleries through April 1, will explore mediums “from film, video, performance, and theater to photography, painting, drawing, printmaking, collage, zines, fashion design, and curating.” A screening series curated by 57 artist John “Lypsinka” Epperson will revive a film program that was an “unruly mix of horror, science fiction, psychedelia and ’60s mod, European art cinema, fantasy and sexploitation, film noir, TV programs, animation, artist’s cinema, and antiwar documentaries.” Needless to say, Cinema of Transgression directors Richard Kern and Nick Zedd will get plenty of screen time.
Another highlight: From Nov. 2 to 4, MoMA’s sister museum in Long Island City, PS1, will be screening videos from the Club 57 days in its geodesic VW Dome. On Sunday of that weekend, Bob Holman of Bowery Poetry will organize a day of poetry and discussion that will include a reunion of Strange Party, his band with Joey Arias and Adele Bertei.