Search Party

Sarah Nicole Prickett and Kaitlin Phillips at Agathe Snow’s Stamina

Agathe Snow, Stamina, 2015, video, color, sound, 24 hours.

AT 6:37 AM on the taxi’s clock a week ago today, we went uptown to catch an off-hour of Agathe Snow’s Stamina. A twenty-four-hour video of a twenty-four-hour party in 2005, Stamina was being screened at another twenty-four-hour party, this one at the Guggenheim, with drink tickets and security guards and some parents. In one of the seven panels on screen a woman in a leotard danced, dedicated to the party shift no one wanted. In the rotunda of the museum, two male teens discombobulated themselves on the disco floor, having the most amazing of times, but in a few years they’ll know that isn’t true. We watched the hotly lit, captivating footage, ignoring its real live counterpart, because parties IRL are boring if you don’t know anybody and don’t want to know anybody you don’t know. The music around us obscured what might have been said in the making of Stamina, which was naturally the part that most interested us, but we’ll allow that at dawn, even in 2005, no one was talking anymore.

Ten hours earlier, we convened at Lucien, one of the few French bistros below Fourth Street that has been in business for more than a decade and could plausibly be described as a haunt. Le Poeme, owned by Snow’s mother, was another; it closed in the 2000s. Unlike at Le Poeme, no one at Lucien was on heroin, though one or two were painters with studios. Half the regulars said either that they were going or that they wanted to go to Stamina or that they’d been to Snow’s show at the Park Avenue Armory, and the other half weren’t going anywhere. It was August, after all. (Twenty-four hours before that, at Lucien again, we had learned from RoseLee Goldberg how to say “Agathe.” Ah-ghat.)

By the time we got to the Guggenheim, there were almost as many people outside the party as in, maybe sixty in total. No one from the early-’00s Bowery art scene had bothered to quit smoking, although they had bothered to come uptown. “It was the most amazing of times,” said Hanna Liden, who was dressed in black and less hostile to us than usual—even charming in her way. Liden was referring to the era of Stamina, not to the party itself, which she had missed due to issues with her visa. “I am crying now,” she said. “Maybe this is not good for Artforum.”

Donald Cumming performs at Agathe Snow's Stamina at the Guggenheim Museum, part of “Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim.” Photo: Paula Galando.

But Liden’s are a people who attend parties and talk about their nostalgia for parties. At this one, their main pastime seemed to be looking at the video to point out who was dead and who was sober. “Even Dan [Colen]’s quit drinking,” said a man whose name must not matter, since we didn’t write it down. “I don’t know what people do now,” said Liden. “I like sleeping and gardening.” “I’m thirty-six years old,” said Nate Lowman, in answer not to a question exactly. He shrugged. They both seemed content. We went inside to watch the bands. Remember when bands were a thing?!

The guitarist for TV Baby is also a suit at Paul’s Cocktail Lounge née Paul’s Baby Grand—not that anyone else has registered this change in nomenclature, but you don’t go to the club to learn things. Everyone was going to Paul’s after this, because even if there’s nothing to do downtown now, you can always go back to where you’ve been. He always told us he was in a band, and so he is; pointing to himself on the screen, he said, “Yes, that was me.”

We looked up “TV Baby” on our phones to read their lyrics: “New York is alright if you’re twelve years old sittin’ in your bedroom all alone at home dreaming about being Lou Reed or James Chance, doin’ some brand new Twenty-First-Century dance across the skyline of Manhattan where anything can happen.” It’s true that the party felt like a reunion for an accidental family, the kind you choose for yourself, because choosing your family just means you’re no longer twelve.

Outside, the sax-obsessed painter Sam McKinniss sucked on a Marlboro Light and looked bored as two of his friends discussed why our musician friend wasn’t here tonight, “even though he was supposed to be playing with those jazz guys,” as in the Onyx Collective. Two people at the door apologized to the musician Lizzi Bougatsos—one of Chloë Sevigny’s documenters, if you got Chloë’s coffee-table book—apparently for missing her set. “Don’t worry,” she said to the first. “Don’t worry,” she said to the second. Everyone was being very adult; we were in Carnegie Hill. No one was very specific about the past, but Bougatsos was the fourth to say that Agathe was the freest of them all: “She would come into the room and whip her scarf. Sort of like Isadora Duncan. You know Isadora Duncan got raped by her scarf and died. But Agathe did it like Martha Graham, she would leave, you could never catch her.”

Left and right: The crowd at Agathe Snow's performance for Stamina at the Guggenheim Museum. Photos: Enid Alvarez.

“I’ve been so nervous, I haven’t slept for days,” said Snow, somewhere near 11 PM. She looked around the Guggenheim as if she were casing it for a breakout, the way party girls do when we start to sober up in a strange apartment, then offered us an American Spirit, from a satin pouch. “At first, when I did the party, I thought it was going to make a proposal for a television show,” she said.

Like Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party, we guessed?

“No, like a reality TV show about dance marathons, like the dance marathons in the Great Depression, and you could do it with all different types of dancing, all different types of people, not even my friends.” The proposal didn’t happen, but the footage came to encapsulate what Liden calls “a document of a moment in time.” Aaron “A-Ron” Bondaroff, the cofounder of OHWOW and proprietor of Know Wave radio, called that time, and more specifically the time after 9/11, one of unprecedented freedom, in which “all the skaters and the art kids came together to drink on the sidewalks.” We noted that the participants—some of them—seem conscious of the cameras in a goofy, excitable way that predates the expectation of all each other’s iPhones at a party. “Soon they won’t be conscious,” said Snow.

A graffiti writer who had been there told Cat Marnell that sober was in the eye of the beholder. Two gallery assistants who hadn’t said that parties in the 2000s were more alive. McKinniss looked around. “I’m starting to wish 9/11 never happened,” he said.

Back inside, we talked to the downtown photographer Tim Barber, whom we know from our personal lives. He called us “cynical” for not liking bands. Then he told us a story about the party on screen, where he’d been one of the bartenders. “I was in the stairwell doing coke with this guy,” he began, referring to the guy whose birthday it had been. We asked if it was Dash Snow, but it wasn’t; Dash is the Snow in the black cowboy hat, picking up drinks for him and a friend we don’t see, and then he slips out of the frame.

“The guy had his own straw for the coke,” said Barber, “and he told me it was because he had AIDS, and because—I didn’t know this before—you can actually get AIDS by sharing straws. The coke was really bad, and I was like, really high, totally freaking out.” He gave us a wry, sad smile. “Now he’s dead, and I don’t have AIDS.”