The Rise Of The East Village Counterculture Movement: Club 57 At The MoMA
Written by Thomas Saenz
Need more art in your life? Couldn’t handle just one article from Bwog today regarding museum visits? Luckily, Bwog Staffer Thomas Saenz is here to save the day with a detailed description of MoMA’s new exhibition, Club 57.
With the history of New York City being dynamic and defining of the emergence of certain American cultural trends, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Club 57, a new exhibit at the MoMA depicting the rise of the East Village to nationwide prominence between 1978 and 1983, can be considered the Renaissance of the countercultural movement. I decided to visit this exhibit over fall break, expecting whimsical and lighthearted depictions of rebellious young adults; this was far from the truth.
Upon taking the escalator downstairs to the first floor of the exhibit, my senses were overwhelmed as the walls were adorned with dozens of flyers depicting party crews and events that were held at Club 57, a hotbed of alternative nightlife and culture that juxtaposed mainstream lifestyles of the 70s and 80s. Founded in 1978 as a venue for art and film, Club 57 slowly developed into a center that explored the realms of gender, identity, and sexuality in context of the shaping 20th century. The surfacing defiance against mainstream cultural standards is reflected through all the art on display, including a television blasting distorted film of Club 57 members, purposely edited to give a nonsensical, eerie message that did not formulate actual sentences. To my right, a virtual gallery displayed photoshoots of drag queens inside the club. On the left wall, drawn images of sexual acts performed in different environments and contexts were displayed, alluding to the sexual nature of the club and its inhabitants. The combination of multiple mediums of art – film, print, oil on canvas, multimedia instillations and drawing – help truly characterizes the scene Club 57 participated in throughout the 70s and 80s.
Going downstairs to the bulk of the exhibit, the first thing that caught my eye was a curtain that led to a partial recreation of Club 57 itself. Playing 70s disco and alternative music on loop, the club was bright, nonsensical, and overwhelming. Everything was painted in neon colors and popped out from its background, giving it a sense of complete encapsulation. Hanging from the ceiling and adorning the walls are various everyday objects – cups, chairs, string, beer cans, flowers, and feminist prose – which all seemingly work together to drown each other out, making it hard to initially identify what truly is in the room. I found this aspect to be the best part of it all – there did not need to be a defined explanation as to why a certain object was in the room, as it worked together to create an overpowering feeling.
Outside the curtained recreation, more instillations of art both found in the club itself as well as created by frequenters of the establishment lined the walls and walkways. In the center of the room was a small screening area for film that was taken directly inside Club 57, giving visitors another look into the environment and culture of the institution. One of the standout portions of this floor of the exhibit was the print section in the back – with a wall of traditional prints that ranged from recreations of Renaissance depictions of Madonna and Child to exposing the corruption and deceit of the Reagan presidency in the 80s. The pieces all seem to juxtapose each other with no real connection between them, yet made sense when considering the demographic of the frequenters of Club 57: each had their own interests, ideas, and talents, and thus was reflected in their choice of artistic subject.
One of the amazing things about this exhibit is the incorporation of MoMA’s built-in theater into its design – on the day that I visited, the museum was playing two movies from the 1970s. Though I was not able to watch any of the films (the admission to the theater is a separate charge and I didn’t have the money), the addition of this cinematic aspect to the exhibition was an interesting feat that providing another medium to build on this concept of counterculture and the ambience of Club 57.
The final portion of the exhibit was the most haunting to me: three individuals, two men and one woman, were painted in the mannerism of clowns, with one of the eyes of the central figure being cut out and replaced with a video of a real eye moving around. The juxtaposition between old and new, normal and countercultural, and realistic versus stylized found in this piece perfectly sums up my experience at this exhibit; it felt ominous, invigorating, and exciting all at once. Club 57 plays with these emotions cleverly, working on all of them in order to produce an overwhelming effect that dominates the senses and makes you want to visit the neon-lit club once more.
Neon clubs and nude figurines via Bwog Staff
Tags: also the moma is free to get into sooo, art heaux, countercultural movements are wild, make sure to bring money if you want to watch a film, moma, sex sex and more sex, sooo much sex, they do the rebellious phase than your 'artsy' insta account, they revolutionized the sadboy look, y'all should go visit it's a cool exhibit