Blast from the Past

Steve Lafreniere on “East Village USA”

New York

Left: Curator Dan Cameron and artist Lee Quinones. Right: Wild Style director Charlie Ahearn.

The crush at the New Museum's opening for “East Village USA” was snarly yet fun, a little like being jammed into one of those unisex bathrooms at the Mudd Club, sans vomit. It was Old Home Week for the art world's Class of ‘81, seemingly a less-reserved bunch than one typically encounters nowadays, with air kisses replaced by cries of, “Shit, Anastasia, I thought you were dead!” The flamboyant mob—two glasses of wine were knocked out of my hands in five minutes—was a veritable who's-left of the era. Stephen Tashjian (Tabboo!) provided me with a running commentary worthy of Joan Rivers as the luminaries descended the steps into the first gallery one by one. Here was game-looking Patrick Fox, whose healthy glow belied his past as a Nan Goldin model. “He was married to Teri Toye! He's like the male Patti Astor!” bubbled Tashjian. Here also were painters David Sandlin and Robert Goldman (Bobby G in his years at ABC No Rio), as well as filmmaker Paul Dougherty (why wasn't his legendary video for Suicide's “Johnny Teardrop” in the show?). Video activist Clayton Patterson, writer Baird Jones, Fluxus stalwart Geoff Hendricks, and choreographer Jeani Filippini: all present, all smiles. The neo-geo room was, predictably enough, the only one in which the salon-style hanging and high-energy vibe were missing. Of the movement’s big three, Peter Halley and Haim Steinbach (his bouncing baby, River, in tow) were present and accounted for, with Jeff Koons conspicuous in his absence. Next door, standing before an enormous Rodney Alan Greenblat sculpture, Fred Brathwaite (Fab 5 Freddie) appeared somewhat less svelte than in his Yo! MTV Raps days, though still flashing the money-makin’ fronts. And there was Greenblat himself, explaining to someone that he'd spent the 1990s in Japan. Makes sense to me. On the top floor, given over mostly to photos of the scene, I was happily surprised to find Miss Understood, Porcelana, and Dany Johnson somewhere other than the basement of the Pyramid Club. Taylor Mead floated past, stopping to scratch his head (literally) before Patrick McMullan's weirdly iconic shot of Cookie Mueller. And, natch, here came McMullan himself, with a giddy-looking posse in tow. Repping the Dealer Decade were the ever-dapper Sur Rodney Sur, Gracie Mansion, and Jay Gorney, who seemed particularly startled to encounter himself (circa 1985) in a Tom Warren portrait. Another gallerist observed, “I can't believe all the twenty-somethings here tonight. There's this undergrad art groupie-ness in the air!” As if on cue, a young woman trotted past squealing, “Oh my god, RoseLee Goldberg!”

With the open bar staying open considerably past its 7:30 cutoff, things got more East Village by the minute, with revelers slow to repair to Bowery Bar for a “light supper” served in the artists’ honor. As noisy frothiness gave way to boozy bossiness, a gasp went up from the crowd near the entrance: Making her way down the steps was Holly Woodlawn. With those same film-goddess eyes and keep-the-fuck-away-from-me jowls used to such effect in Trash and Women in Revolt, the ex-Warhol drag superstar had everyone in the room trumped for cool. “Let's go sit in the stairwell, honey. My feet are killing me,” she growled to a companion. And just as quickly, she disappeared.

Left: Gallerist Grace Mansion, opening guest, and artist Rodney Alan Greenblat. Right: Brigitte Bulger, Fab 5 Freddie, and artist John Ahearn.

Clockwise from top left: RoseLee Goldberg and Holly Woodlawn; Gwen Smith (with River Steinbach) and Haim Steinbach; Patti Astor; Paper Senior Editor Carlo McCormick and Tessa Hughes Freeland; Renee Riccardo. (Photos: Patrick McMullan/PMc, except Ricard).

Clockwise from top left: New Museum director Lisa Phillips and artist Bobby G; Artnet.com editor Walter Robinson and friend; Jay Gorney, Ellen Kern, and Sarah Charlesworth; view of the opening crowd.