Club 57: Lost Flyers 1979-83

Club 57: Lost Flyers 1979-83
December 16, 2017 – February 11, 2018

Opening: Saturday, December 16, 5 to 7 pm

This exhibition brings together 125+ artist-designed xerographic flyers, posters, and maquettes announcing events at Club 57, the downtown artist-run club open from around 1979-83. Keith Haring was an art curator there, and numerous flyers for his one-night only exhibitions are included. Of note, a series of four different self-published business card sized announcements featuring early renditions of “radiant baby,” announcing Haring’s first one-person exhibition in New York. Like most events at Club 57, this event spanned one-night only. Most of the flyers in this show, including Haring’s hand-cut cards, have never been exhibited or reproduced elsewhere apart from Alden Projects.

When the Club 57 scene is memorialized, it is frequently remembered for having been a downtown hangout and venue for visual, performance, and musical artists including Keith Haring, Madonna, Kenny Scharf, John Sex, Joey Arias, Scott Wittman, Scott Shaiman, Klaus Nomi, and at the beginning, Jean-Michel Basquiat. But the real story about Club 57 also reflects a vast number of exceptional participants who also contributed to creating a highly collaborative, idiosyncratic, constantly changing social space: this earnestly experimental, collective, and do-it-yourself environment feels very distant from what is possible in New York City today. Many of Club 57’s members died early and of AIDS.

Club 57: Lost Flyers 1979-83 focuses on vintage photocopied flyers that for the most part, were distributed as handbills, stapled or occasionally wheat pasted to walls. Few were sent through the mail. Club 57 calendars were produced by Ann Magnuson, Christian Joiris, and Andy Rees. (According to Susan Hannaford, “fake” event placeholders were occasionally inserted to “beef up” the programming and to lure visitors.)

But this exhibition focusses on the vast array of artist-designed flyers that were real, and were not, for the most part, produced by centralized design imperatives or protocols. Idiosyncratic and personal by design, nearly all were produced according to the economic constraints and possibilities of an emerging culture of the photocopy.

Collected together, they unfold an impressionistic record of the ephemeral history of Club 57, a members-only club founded by Stanley Strychacki around late 1978 and inhabited by youthful, freewheeling artists who were somehow granted access to the basement of the Holy Cross Polish National Church at 57 St. Mark’s Place. “Part basement den, part art gallery, part Dada cabaret, Club 57 began as an ephemeral, anything-goes environment where artists and performers had carte blanche to test-drive their wildest dreams,” to borrow writer Rachel Wolff’s description. The club emerged in 1978 out of the New Wave Vaudeville Show at Irving Plaza, created by Susan Hannaford and Tom Scully, and introducing Klaus Nomi’s premier performance---all of whom harnessed this variety show spirit to novel ends at Club 57.  In fact, much of the programming at Club 57 for the next three years borrowed from this new vaudeville template. 

There was little money involved with Club 57, a fortuitously absent constraint permitting the anything-goes programming, which could be provocative, outrageous, silly or unapologetically campy. In spite of the club’s numeric name, it was more like the anti-Studio 54. There were exhibitions of non-art, found objects, and other group exhibitions of Xeroxes (Keith Haring was the curator for a couple of years). In the unexpected context of a church basement, there were musical reviews and plays; some featured Ann Magnuson and Sam Shepherd, for example. Club 57 organizers and film programmers, Susan Hannaford and Tom Scully, organized a regular series of eclectic films ranging from Godard to Monster Movie Club films screened regularly on Tuesday nights; other B-grade programming included 60s television shows and “lurid” (pornographic) films. There were dance parties. There were “Club 57 slide shows.” In the spirit of Dada, perhaps, there was a “Non-writers poetry reading.” There were evenings of “psychedelic punk” and no wave music. There was a house band with shifting members headed by Kai Eric. Music was not the main draw; however, extraordinary talents played there, including The Fleshtones; The Cramps; David Wojnorowicz’ band, 3 Teens Kill 4 (see the March 1981 calendar); Elephant Dance (a band that included Al Diaz, a frequent Basquiat collaborator); and Liquid Liquid.

To a certain extent, Club 57 was a stepchild of Warhol’s legacy and camp. The flyers in this exhibition register appearances by Warhol Superstars Ondine, Gerard Malanga, Mary Wornarov, and Holly Woodlawn. Another flyer announces a March 27, 1981 performance called “Velvet Mania,” a Velvet Underground tribute (with Ann Magnuson starring as Nico; Magnuson managed the club for the first couple of years, producing some of its early calendars).  A few other names on these flyers of artists appearing at Club 57 include: Kathy Acker, John Ahearn, Wendy Wild, Bikini Girl (Lisa Baumgardener), James Nares, Beth B. and Scott B., John Lurie, Rhys Chatham, Sam Shepherd, Henry Jones, David McDermott, and Christian Joiris (who created and co-created many calendars and flyers from the later years). But so many other collaborators are also worth remembering and many are commemorated here.

In addition to the Xerox shows, Keith Haring curated a number of other “more conventional” art shows in 1980-82. A flyer for one reads as follows: “Anonymous Art” (October 29, 1980: 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.)…Keith Haring presents works from his private collection: ‘art’ found on the street; ‘art’ by children; ‘art’ propaganda: raw art by unknown authors at 57.” This exhibition includes the notice for a Haring-curated project which captures some of the spirit of the club: it is flyer for the “First Annual Club 57 Group Erotic and Pornographic Art Exhibition” (opened February 27, 1981); the show included such artists as Donald Baechler, Frank Moore, Frank Holliday, David Wojnarowicz, Buster Cleveland, James Brown & David Carrino, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Anonymous, and Kenny Scharf (the poster for Haring’s show, however, was not by the artist but rather by the artist’s pal, John Sex, whose colorful, screen printed posters were the exception, not the rule, mainly because the production costs were beyond the means of nearly all the other artists at Club 57). Eventually, the Mudd Club hired away much of Club 57’s early crowd (including Haring, Sex, and Scharf), but the club continued with compelling and eclectic programming through 1983 some of which is indexed here.

Due to the intimate scale of the club as well as the miniscule amount of money involved, Club 57’s “publicity apparatus”—if we can call it that—was decentralized, and consisted of artist-produced, photocopied flyers. This distinguishes Club 57’s publicity from the high production, printed-and-mailed ephemera associated with the earlier Studio 54, but also from the more famous, later-era clubs like Area, The Palladium, Danceteria, and The Tunnel that were otherwise professionally and coherently designed and printed. In all cases, perhaps, the medium was also the message. Nearly all of the flyers in Club 57: Lost Flyers 1979-83, at any rate, were originally posted on walls or distributed by hand.

One exception is the newsletters sent to members of the Monster Movie Club, headed by Hannaford and Scully. This club-within-a-club heralded itself in its third week of existence as “the only regularly meeting club in this or any other world dedicated to the screaming (sic) of B monster movies.” About 20 Monster Movie Club “nooseletters” (sic) are present along with a number of large format photocopied posters. Designed to announce offbeat programming and campy costume parties, these mailers also materialized the fundamentally collaborative core of the Club 57 project; one flyer, for example, announces the results of a Monster Movie Club vote for a field trip (and beach party!) to a haunted New Jersey mansion, while others invite members to send in their photographs to be reproduced on future flyers; a few of the latter are present, including John Sex’s. The Monster Movie Club enjoyed a celebrity cult following too: Vincent Price mailed in a signed photograph addressed to the club in 1979; The Misfits, the American horror punk band were also active and enthusiastic members; and ex-New York Dolls front man, David Johansen (and early Club 57 member) even participated in a photoshoot for the Monster Movie Club, reproduced in the Soho News in 1980.  (The original newspaper is present.) The tone and spirit of the club’s newsletters is participatory, democratic and inclusive.

What is exhibited here tells just a fragment of the lost stories of Club 57. Not all, but most of the flyers here are unsigned. A few “originals” included hand-colorings. Some were likely to have been photocopied at Todd’s Copy Shop (283 Mott Street), which allowed artists direct access to its machines and was already thriving by 1979. Haring, but also many others, promulgated “Xerox art” as an art form at Club 57: Haring curated at least two different shows on photocopy art (which are not documented here). Around 1980, Xerox art was an emergent medium, allowing artists to make their own street posters and propaganda; as such, it was celebrated not only by Conceptual artists, but also by many of the artists at Club 57 who prized it for its scrappy, do-it-yourself punk and no wave aesthetic. Before the subway chalk drawings, Haring made photocopies that he pasted onto walls on the street. His photocopied business card-sized announcements for first one-person exhibition in New York for example, literally handed out on the street, might be considered as extensions of his early street work.

To some extent, the original photocopies from Club 57 unquestionably approximate artworks. Unlike typical advertisements, these were produced by artists sometimes inspired by poetry and performance art. But of course, the equivocal status of the photocopy as non-art—as degraded ephemera, designed to invite the audience to passing performances and to passing pleasures—also contributed to the re-doubled urgency of these messages in a place where life and art traded places, however briefly. 

This exhibition compliments the current exhibition at MoMA, Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978–1983. The latter show re-stages works, returning to the present “many works that have not been publicly exhibited since the 1980s,” according to the press release. MoMA’s exhibition contrasts with the entirely indexical, but also paradoxically annunciative/melancholic focus of this exhibition, which ushers the viewer’s address towards the shifting states between expectation and loss. In today’s light, these flyers invite us to view Club 57 events as both as forthcoming and as completed. In contrast to most art presented in museums and galleries, events at Club 57 were designed to last one night only. Like the events themselves, the degraded photocopies accompanying them were invitations towards ephemeral voyages, and they were built to spill. However academically worthy it is to revisit and to reconstruct the extraordinary environments that happened on St. Marks Place, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put Club 57 together again. Rather than representing a vanished present, the absence of work at Alden Projects points the viewers’ gaze, instead, towards her imagination, reanimated only in the traces of these lost flyers. You can’t put your arms around a memory.

© Todd Alden 2017

Club 57: Lost Flyers 1979-83 includes material expanded upon from Alden Projects™ eponymous exhibition and catalogue, which debuted at MoMA P.S. 1 in 2014 in the context of Printed Matter’s New York Art Book Fair. A new book, Club 57: Lost Flyers 1979-83 is forthcomingSeveral photographs by Joseph Szkodzinski are also on view at Alden Projects™ as well as the debut of Susan Hannaford’s Club 57 Playing Cards.

Alden Projects™ gratefully acknowledges Susan Hannaford, Paige Powell, Christian Joiris, Richard McGuire, Henry Jones, Joseph Szkodzinski, and Marc Miller.