James Murphy, Laurie Anderson, and David Gahan were among the hundreds of party people who packed into last night’s opening of the Velvet Underground Experience, a pop-up exhibition in the Village celebrating the seminal NYC band and the cultural era it helped define. Also on hand were avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas, whose work is a prominent part of the show, and one of the band’s founding members, John Cale.

The exhibition itself features more than 350 photographs of the band, and the scene, and the city in the 1960s, including rarities on loan from private collections. Each official member of the Velvet Underground—so that’s Lou Reed, Cale, Nico, Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker—gets a special “portrait” area filled with things like childhood photos, reminiscences, and other biographical material. Also warranting the portrait treatment are friends of the band and NYC icons of the era such as Andy Warhol, Candy Darling, Edie Sedgwick, and Danny Williams. Allen Ginsberg’s blistering poem “America” sets the scene at the exhibition entrance. And there are a great series of photos from Cafe Bizarre, which used to be on West 3rd a few blocks from the site of this show, and where the Velvet Underground had a regular gig until Warhol “discovered” them.
There are lots of archival movies playing continuously throughout the two-story space, six of which were produced especially for the exhibition. You can also see Barbara Rubin’s art house porno, Christmas on Earth (original title: Cocks and Cunts), which she made when she was 18 before ditching the entire scene, moving to a religious community in the South of France, and having five children before dying at the age of 35 of a postnatal infection. And don’t miss The Velvet Underground Played At My High School, an animated “re-enactment” of the band’s first-ever gig, opening for The Myddle Class at the Summit High School auditorium in New Jersey, as remembered by the then 15-year-old Tony Janelli.

Anchoring the main exhibition floor is the very chill Greenhouse, with pads on either side for lounging and viewing the projections on the A-frame ceilings. A wealth of historical and cultural ephemera is also on display, with underground publications such as The East Village Other and Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts making one long, perhaps, for simpler times. The band’s enormous musical significance is honored with a legacy wall, plastered with acts that count the Velvet Underground as an influence. And in the “secret” basement there’s a large party, panel, and performance space, which will play host to a number of events in the coming weeks including, tomorrow night, a discussion with John Cale.

The Velvet Underground Experience is now open daily through December 30 and is located at 718 Broadway near Washington Place. Tickets are $25 for general admission, and $50 for VIP treatment. There is, of course, a well-stocked gift shop up front, which is open to all.