Forever After

Whitney Mallett on “XPRM/E/N/TAL” and the Spectrum at MoMA PS1

Raúl de Nieves, Nathan Whipple, and Jessie Stead of Haribo. (All photos: Walter Wlodarczyk)

1 PM ON A SUNDAY felt unreasonably early. Given the circumstances, maybe it made more sense to think of it as the after-after-afterparty. Or maybe just “after.” “XPRM/E/N/TAL,” Raúl de Nieves and gage of the boone’s Sunday Sessions program at MoMA PS1, celebrated New York’s cutest after-hours family with an artist-curated marathon in the cozily carpeted VW Dome, ranging from witchy to bitchy, noise to cabaret. The name came from a series de Nieves had been organizing for some months at the Spectrum, a queer, community-supported Brooklyn venue gage founded with performer Nicolas Gorham in 2011 that was forced from its location in the wee hours of January 1, after LGND, its final, last-call, all-out New Year’s Eve brawl.
The line between party and performance always blurred at the Spectrum, aka the Dreamhouse. By day you could find offbeat yoga and self-defense classes, but by night the crowd turned looks that rivaled whatever was on the tiny, makeshift stage. Once the artist Sadaf H. Nava showed up with Björk in tow. Wolfgang Tillmans seemed to be there all August, happily snapping away. There was a rotating cast of characters living above it; they created a barrier to noise complaints on the quiet South Williamsburg street and helped gage keep things in relative (dis)order. When my friend Joe moved out, months later, he still had flakes of glitter buried in his scalp. Last summer, we started to hear rumblings of an expiration date decided by ominous (real estate) forces. There were stories of strange visits from cops. And then there was word that the rage would wind down with 2015, gossip made official by Facebook invite.

Left: gage of the boone. Right: MarinaObamaWitch.

I first stumbled into the Spectrum on a foggy January night, or morning, I should say. The front door of a generic row house with white vinyl siding led to a skinny hallway. A second door at the end opened onto a haze of colored lights and throbbing bass. Nocturnal creatures in sparkle and face paint rubbed against shirtless or naked bodies of all colors and dimensions. In the years since Spectrum opened, countless DIY spots have been eulogized, but none have given me pause like the shuttering of this one. Think of all the dear friends you met, the good times you had, the hand jobs you gave!
It feels like a loss for the city’s queer arts scene, but no doubt the community will continue to blossom and mutate. That was de Nieves’s sentiment, anyway, as he emceed the MoMA PS1 show, wearing a headset mic and dress of his own design, brunette locks cascading down his shoulders. His voice dipped into devilish octaves as he introduced each act, seamlessly switching between absurd quip and heartfelt avowal, intermittently telling us Spectrum was a group of people not a space, an ongoing collaboration rather than a venue that was over.
It’s a weird negotiation whenever an institution recontextualizes “the underground.” The museum can fossilize, lending legitimacy when things have stopped breathing—for example, the screening of Agathe Snow’s decade-old party footage featuring her late husband at the Guggenheim this summer, or Berlin’s New Theater performances at the Whitney in October. And then there’s the whole vertical trajectory embedded in the thinking that DIY spaces are where art is incubated before it gets bankable. (Though, to be fair, MoMA PS1 is less a museum than a massive exhibition space, messily in conversation with the communities it represents, as these things go.) Sunday, Jake Dibeler’s performance gestured at the latter. During the one-act farce, Macy Rodman valley-girled into her iPhone, “I’m at PS1.” Later, all three auburn-wigged “Jake Dibelers” cooed like a deadpan Grecian chorus, “I hope there are some fancy museum people in the audience today. I do see a lot of my fans.”

Left: “Jake Dibeler.” Right: Jake Dibeler with two “Jake Dibelers.”

Whether or not institutional success or whatever is the (or simply a) point, the community that’s grown out of the Spectrum is having some right now. De Nieves’s contribution to the current “Greater New York,” a kaleidoscopic beaded sculpture, has brought him well-deserved attention. And in the last year, Juliana Huxtable, who though not involved Sunday was a frequent host at the Spectrum, has morphed from nightlife princess to art-world It Girl. At any given edition of Spectrum parties like Dagger or Ova the Rainbow you might see Hood By Air’s Leilah Weinraub and Shayne Oliver or Venus X or artists Xavier Cha or Jacolby Satterwhite or Stewart Uoo or Ryan Trecartin or Ryan McNamara or A. K. Burns or Katie Hubbard or Ulrike Müller rooting for some often untested talent. And in this vein, the names of many of Sunday’s acts were decidedly not “names”: serpentwithfeet, FREEMEATCOUPON, MarinaObamaWitch.
The PS1 program closed with Haribo, the operatic post–thrash metal band de Nieves fronts with Nathan Whipple and Jessie Stead, and opened with his new duo, SOMOS MONSTROS (a collaboration with Erik Zajaceskowski), which was even weirder, if that’s possible. Two freaky hooded popes banged on a metal wheelbarrow, sign, and chair. De Nieves chanted. It was perverse, and a blessing. 

Chibi Cherry.

Left: FREEMEATCOUPON. Right: Whitney Vangrin.

Left:  SOMOS MONSTROS. Right: Colin Self.

Left: Colin Self. Right: serpentwithfeet.