Without much question, Material, the New York-based jazz/funk/hip-hop combo founded by bassist Bill Laswell and keyboardist Michael Beinhorn in 1978, has a rightful place on any list of the most interesting bands of all time. Somewhat like Brian Eno, Nile Rodgers, Steve Albini, and Was (Not Was), Material combined performance and composition with significant production credits. To give you an idea of the kind of terrain Material comfortably occupied, here’s a partial list of Material’s more notable collaborators: Nona Hendryx, Afrika Bambaataa, John Lydon, Whitney Houston, Fab Five Freddy, Sonny Sharrock, Kool Keith, Daevid Allen, Bootsy Collins, and William S. Burroughs.
If nothing so far has rung any bells, you probably are aware of Herbie Hancock’s 1983 album Future Shock and Hancock’s most famous track “Rockit,” which was a big hit in the early days of MTV. Material was all over that album, and its hard electronic funk sound was quite typical of Material’s music.
In 1983 Material did some European dates and someone hit upon a cool idea. Keith Haring would create an improvised mural on the stage set while Material went through its compositions. I don’t know how often this happened but it happened at least twice, once at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 13, and once in Milan at the Milano Suono Festival on July 20. On both occasions the lineup was (as two YouTube videos have it) Bill Laswell, Michael Beinhorn, Grandmixer D.ST., Sonny Sharrock, Henry Kaiser, J.T. Lewis, “and Keith Haring on Magic Marker.”
Many years later Laswell told the Quietus about Haring’s onstage involvement with Material:
I think I was playing with Sonny Sharrock, D.ST who is a DJ, and Henry Kaiser. Again, it was improvised but with a rhythm section. It was a long time ago, and probably a lot more in the avant-garde! But we did play pieces that featured the turntable. It was also the first time I had ever seen live music with live painting. So Keith Haring painted live while we were playing and when the music stopped, the painting was finished, which was kind of a trip for the audience.
There’s always been a tension between the childlike DayGlo images of Keith Haring and the artist’s transgressive, libido-friendly, street-art-scrawling queer politics. Is Haring’s art meant for children or adults? Well, both, really—depending. As the politically charged 1980s recede from memory, the specific political stakes of his art likewise fade; in our post-Internet age it might be the case that your tween niece or nephew isn’t all that discomfited by the cartoonish image of a spurting penis anyway. It’s emblematic of Haring’s art (and marketing savvy) that the most famous image of the era’s most famous gay artist depicts an adorable crawling infant (actual title: “Radiant Baby”).
In any case, in most of his catalogue the two sides, the innocent and the profane, operate together. As a world-famous artist, Haring had an acute understanding of context, and he knew perfectly well when to retract his scarier tendencies and when to let them frolic, as in the decidedly NSFW images he used in his public work at the LGBT Center on 13th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, as an example. And in some venues, Haring also knew how to keep it clean and even—egad—kid-friendly.
Haring’s coloring books are a case in point. Any one of us can go to Amazon and purchase The Keith Haring Coloring Book and we’d still have enough left over from a $10 bill left over for a slice and a soda (if you happen to live in Haring’s hometown, that is). I haven’t seen the inside of that product, but based on the cover it’s very likely that that book started out as a private project, self-published in small batches in 1986.
Today, exemplars from the original run are rather difficult to come by. When they do pop up at auction houses under its more formal name 20 Lithographs (Coloring Book), you’d end up paying $800-$1200 for one of them.
Most of us would be happier with the slice of pizza and the one you can feel safe actually defacing with crayons, amirite?
Here are a few images from 20 Lithographs, including the cover, which is slightly different from the retail product available on Amazon. Interestingly, the book is also a counting book—every image features one of the numbers from 1 to 19, with some element (legs, eyes, stars, etc.) featured in the stated amount. You can see the entire set of images here.
Of the ‘80s class of NYC artists, graffitist Keith Haring probably punctured the mainstream deepest of all (lots of points awarded to Barbara Kruger for “I Shop Therefore I Am,” though). But while middle America delighted in t-shirts and tote bags of his famous “Radiant Baby” and three-eyed smiley face, Haring directly confronted Apartheid, perceptions of homosexuality, and the AIDS crisis, especially between his 1988 AIDS diagnosis and his 1990 death.
But well before that diagnosis, Haring depicted gay male sexuality much more playfully—in the late ‘70s, he executed a series of simple graphite drawings depicting Manhattan as an island of dick. Buildings, streets and people are all rendered as the kind of cartoon dicks you can find any given 8th grade boy doodling in study hall, but Haring being Haring, his renditions are quite wonderful. They’ve been compiled onto the new book Manhattan Penis Drawings for Ken Hicks. Per Hyperallergic:
Haring envisions the city as a kingdom of phalluses: he transforms Manhattan’s churches, skyscrapers, and fire hydrants into architectural penises. The Twin Towers become twin penises. There are penises drawn in front of Tiffany’s, in front of the Museum of Modern Art, while “waiting for a yam.” There are minimalist penises, composed of as few lines as possible. There are also Gucci penises, alphabet penises, flying torpedo penises, optical illusion penises, deconstructed penises, “actual size” tracings of penises, and clusters of penises on the subway at rush hour.
Unlike his “popnography” works in series like Sex is Life is Sex, Manhattan Penis Drawings are about as erotic as Dr. Seuss creatures, desexualized and abstracted into weird shapes ... they’re a light, playful version of his then-controversial pop celebration of gay male sexuality.
There’s sort of an underground precedent for a collection like this in Raymond Pettibon’s limited artist’s book Thinking of You, but that’s a much darker work—Pettibon’s penises are shadowy and menacing monoliths compared to Haring’s sprightly everydicks. Images here are reproduced from the book’s publisher, the Zurich-based Nieves. Since they’re, you know, pictures of dicks, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you to be careful if you’re reading this at work?
Dennis Hopper bought one of Andy Warhol’s first soup-can prints for seventy-five bucks. It should have been a good investment but then Hopper lost it to his first ex-wife—part of the divorce settlement. She also picked-up a Roy Lichtenstein that Hopper had bought for just over a thousand dollars. The ex-wife sold it for $3k. If she’d kept it she could have made a cool $16 million. But it was never about money for Hopper:
My idea of collecting is not going and buying bankable names, but buying people that I believe are really contributing something to my artistic life.
Hopper was a “a middle-class farm boy” from Dodge City, Kansas. He was born on May 17th, 1936. He had Scottish ancestors—which might explain some of his wild temperament. His mother was a lifeguard instructor. His father worked for the post office.
Hopper fought “the cows with a wooden sword…hung a rope in the trees and played Tarzan”—all the stuff kids do. He swam in the pool his mother managed. Fired his BB gun at crows. Once looked at the sun through a telescope and went blind for five days. Hopper was smart, creative, arty—went to Saturday morning art classes. But growing up on a farm he felt a childhood angst about missing out. He felt desperate. To get away from this feeling he went to the movies. He came home and sniffed gasoline. He watched the clouds turn into clowns and goblins. He sniffed more gasoline wanting to see what else the clouds were hiding. He OD’d. He thought he was Abbott and Costello and Errol Flynn. He wrecked his grandfather’s truck with a baseball bat.
The family moved and moved again—ending up in San Diego. In high school Hopper was voted the one most likely to succeed. He had a taste for theater and wanted to act. He went out to Hollywood and became an actor.
It was Vincent Price who first hipped Hopper to art. He told him “You need to collect—this is where you need to put your money.” But it wasn’t about money—it was “a calling.”
I always thought that acting was art, writing was art, music was art, painting was art, and I’ve tried to keep that cultural vibe to my life. I never wanted to don a tie, or go into an office.
Hopper was eighteen performing Shakespeare in San Diego when he was introduced to James Dean—“the best young actor in America, if not the world, when I met him.”
Jimmy arrived, and I saw him start to act, and I realized I was nowhere near as good as him. I’d never seen anyone improvise like that. I was full of preconceived ideas about when to make a gesture, how to read a line. I considered myself an accomplished Shakespearian actor. And he’d do this improvising, and I’d check the script and think, “Where the hell did those lines come from?” He taught me some basic stuff. “If you’re going to drink something in a film, drink it. If you’re going to smoke something, smoke it. Don’t act as if you’re drinking or smoking, just do it as you would off-set.” That was such good advice. He taught me to live the moment, in the reality, not fill my head with presupposed ideas, or anticipate what may or may not happen.
Hopper signed to Warner Bros. Started making movies. Worked with Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Hung around art galleries—became a “gallery bum.” When Dean died, Hopper was devastated. It may have led to his “I’m a fucking genius, man” behavior that eventually got him blackballed from Hollywood.
He moved to the east coast. Hung around the art scene. Became friends with Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Ed Ruscha. He still collected art—but it was never about the money.
Dennis Hopper would have been eighty this year. He died in 2010—three years after his mother died. She made it to ninety. Hopper left a vast collection of artwork—paintings by Warhol, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Julian Schnabel and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Hopper saw himself as a custodian—keeping the art until he died and it was given over to a museum.
On October 20, 1982, The CBS Evening News, hosted by Dan Rather, ran a segment about a fellow in New York City who was currently upending the typical view of graffiti artists as untalented thugs. Charles Osgood did the report on the artist, who of course was Keith Haring.
Haring’s practice during that time was evidently to use chalk instead of spray paint, which (it seems to me) calls into question the fundamental law-and-order premise of whether Haring had actually damaged any property (Osgood says something vaguely similar). My guess would be that public hysteria over graffiti was just unreasonably high during the 1970s and 1980s. During the segment Osgood says that Haring sometimes gets arrested for his graffiti, and then, weirdly enough, that’s exactly what happens. (It almost feels staged.)
Osgood points out that the sentences are never very harsh, and that Haring is willing to assume that risk in order to bring his art to regular people. The segment makes a lot of hay on the idea that hoity-toity people in the art world pay high prices for artworks that you can see for next to nothing on the subway, but that irony seems like a big shrug to me.
Early on you can catch a glimpse of a large advertisement for the most recent issue of Penthouse (“Special Back to School Issue!”). All you New Yorkers out there, when was the last time you saw an ad for a porno magazine on a subway platform?
After the jump, watch the CBS news report, followed by a gallery of Keith Haring stalking the subways…
When you think of the work of Keith Haring, it’s probable that unless you know a great deal about him, you’ll envision it all as being rather similar, brightly colored graffiti-style artifacts with faceless outline-homunculi thrusting their fists into the air and crawling babies and barking dogs with wiggly motion lines, perhaps on a Swatch? CRACK IS WACK: we’ve all seen it.
Well, as is true of nearly all artists, Haring’s signature style didn’t emerge fully formed, and there is a lot of work from his younger years that isn’t much like that at all. While this tendency never really left him, Haring started out as something closer to a standard-issue agit-prop street artist and collagist, one with a huge debt to Warhol, whom he later befriended. In 1980, already having acquired some reputation as a street artist, Haring briefly adopted a style in which he manipulated choice phrases from the cover of the New York Post to create bizarre new headlines in which his most hated public figures (Ronald Reagan and the Pope) became the butt of the joke. In a text that can be found in Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography by John Gruen, Haring wrote:
The most notorious of my street pieces were the ones that looked like the front page of the New York Post. I’d cut out letters from the Post and rearrange them to make fake headlines, like REAGAN SLAIN BY HERO COP or POPE KILLED FOR FREED HOSTAGE or MOB FLEES AT POPE RALLY. I Xeroxed these in the hundreds and I’d paste them on lampposts and on newsstands. Because they looked so real, people were forced to confront them. They were completely confused—and the posters really made a mark, because they got into people’s consciousness.
When I lived in New York, my housemates and I would frequently joke about strange turns of phrase that we would see in the New York Post. For better or worse, the deathless tabloid represents the pinched and chauvinistic and intolerant side of the city, and it does that pretty damn well. The fact that you probably knew EXACTLY how a New York Post cover treatment of any subject looks and feels before you even looked at any of the pictures in this post is a testament to their nauseating skill at getting people riled up, and the damn thing is probably as iconic as Mount Fuji and may well last as long as it, too.
Here are a bunch of those, I believe all of these date from 1980.
Obviously this is the original taped-together collage version of the one above it, in Xerox form.
Many more examples of Keith Haring’s New York Post collages after the jump…
For the last 7 years 1800 Tequila has released a series of tequila bottles done up in the style of well-known recent artists. The project is called 1800’s “Essential Series.” In the past, their bottles have featured the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gary Baseman, Tara McPherson, Shepard Fairey, and Ian McGillivray, among many others.
This year 1800 selected Keith Haring for a spiffy set of 6 tequila bottles that look mighty handsome.
Keith Haring drew cool, clean, simple lines that showed his confidence and talent as an artist. Haring could draw long before he started school. His father, an engineer and amateur cartoonist, encouraged him to create his own cartoon characters rather than copy them from comic books or Disney cartoons. So, Haring dreamt up his own cartoon figures which he drew across page after page of his drawing books.
Then his father gave Keith another sound piece of advice—he told him to learn how to draw with his eyes closed. Haring practiced and practiced until he could draw any of his figures with eyes tight shut.
In 1989, Keith Haring traveled to Barcelona where he painted on a large mural “Todos juntos podemos parar el SIDA” (Together We Can Stop AIDS) in El Raval or the Barrio del Chino—a notorious drug area, where used syringes and drug paraphernalia littered the streets. The mural was painted on a concrete buttress in la plaza Salvador Segui and contained many of Haring’s famous trademark symbols—dancing figures, snakes, hypodermic syringes and the three figures of see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil—or in this case: speak out, educate, and understand the dangers of AIDs. In his journal, Haring wrote about the mural:
I spent five hours doing it, as I had planned. The wall had a strange inclination that made it difficult to paint, but one of the things I like about this work is the [physical] adaptability it requires. I found a posture that allowed me to paint in a homogenous, balanced way. Some of the best photos of this mural reflect the body language and postures I adopt when painting it.
Haring produced the work for free, hoping it would inspire change.
In the 1990s, the mural fell into disrepair and was removed to MACBA—the Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona.
The video (shot by Cesar de Melero) also includes footage of Haring working on a mural at an arts studio/nightclub.
Bonus early news report on Haring drawing chalk murals on NY’s subway, after the jump…
I never thought much about balloon artists before, but this Robert Moy fellow has given me a whole new respect for the pastime. In this remarkable time-lapse video he twists and bends roughly 150 black balloons to pay homage to a 1987 painting by Keith Haring called Five Dancing Guys.
Garage Magazine asked Moy for a demonstration of his art, and he came up with the idea of imitating a Haring. Garage says it took Moy two days to do it. The little marks on the ground apparently aren’t balloons, or they would drive the balloon count up to 247. (Yes, I counted.)
Here’s the Haring original, you can compare the results for yourself:
Moy runs the Brooklyn Balloon Company. Of his mural, he said, “I’ve always been a big fan of Keith Haring and thought his work would translate well using balloons. ... Haring’s kidlike, playful qualities relate strongly to my balloon sculptures.”
When Keith Haring first came to New York he thought the city’s graffiti the “most beautiful things” he had ever seen.
“The kids who were doing it were very young and from the streets, but they had this incredible mastery of drawing which totally blew me away. I mean, just the technique of drawing with spray paint is amazing, because it’s incredibly difficult to do. And the fluidity of line, and the scale, and always the hard-edged black line that tied the drawings together! It was the line I had been obsessed with since childhood!”
Haring was studying painting in New York and one day while traveling on the subway he noticed the black paper panels used to cover-up old adverts. “These are dying to be drawn on!” Haring thought and picked up some chalk and began drawing his now trademark figures.
“Every two weeks, I’d add new elements to the drawings, Often I’d do thirty or forty drawings in one day. Now I found a way of participating with graffiti artists without really copying them, because I didn’t want to draw on the trains. Actually, my drawing on those black panels made me more vulnerable to being caught by the cops - so there was an element of danger. Well, I started spending more and more time in the subways. I actually developed a route where I would go from station to station to do just those drawings.”
Haring worked hard and his images soon spread across the city. By 1982, he had his first one man show. Barbara Haskell, Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, claimed Haring made work that was:
“...accessible and generic enough to be accepted by everyman without any critical intervention…”
This was how Haring (along with Jean-Michel Basquait and Kenny Scharf) bypassed the art establishment, attacked the art world’s inherent elitism and spoke directly to the public. It also allowed Haring to promote debate on issues of politics and sexuality.
Elisabeth Aubert’s film Drawing the Line: A Portrait of Keith Haring skirts around any controversy, sticking to Haring’s rise and success during the 1980s. There are choice interviews with the usual suspects, Tony Shafrazi, Barbara Haskell, Dennis Hopper, but most importantly, it is Haring himself who delivers the goods.
Haring’s art was essentially ephemeral, which made it all the more precious. It lent itself to mass production that ensured Haring’s success and maintained his high public profile since his untimely death in 1990. It also created incredible wealth for his estate and the many charities associated with it. But money is secondary to Keith Haring the man, the artist—the brave and powerfully exhilarating creative life force, whose talent and exuberance still inspire.
Keith Haring had the great good fortune to become one of the most iconic and recognizable of the downtown artists of the 1980s—and while it was fairly obvious that he was gay and that his sexuality played some role in his work, a lot of people may be unaware that, on certain occasions, he expressed that side of himself far more fully in his art. Not all of it was fit for T-shirts or refrigerator magnets, in other words.
In 1989 Haring took over the second-floor bathroom of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center on 13th Street in Greenwich Village—the exact address is 208 West 13th Street—and turned every blank surface he could find into an astonishing tableau of his familiar figures throbbing with every kind of imaginable urge. The title of the mural is “Once Upon a Time.” In effect, it’s a pre-AIDS bacchanal, and the images are at once reminiscent of a smutty Hieronymus Bosch and (this might just be me) the stately public friezes that Gustav Klimt instigated in fin-de-siècle Vienna, which at the time were considered shocking (they don’t seem shocking today). There’s a lil’ Picasso in there, too.
A year and a half ago, the restoration on the site was completed—the space has been converted from a bathroom to a meeting room. According to the LGBT Community Center’s website, the mural is currently “under wraps” because of construction, but ordinarily it’s available to be viewed by the public (however, I’m not certain of the viewing times; it’s not a museum, so it’s probably best to call in advance).
These pictures are pretty NSFW—I think they’re very nice but your cubicle co-worker might not share the opinion.
I know perfectly well that these shirts are little more than a quick grab at fashion trendiness, but I like ‘em anyway. The whole idea of a French firm assigning American sports jerseys to various iconic creative people (none of whom would probably be able to tell apart a catcher’s mitt from a hockey stick) seems pretty witty to me.
These come from a French fashion outfit called LES (ART)ISTS, who say that these designs were inspired by “American football jerseys,” which seems fair enough.
The regular T-shirts are €45 ($60), and the flannel versions are €99 ($133). Actually, they seem to have only the b/w version (such as the KAWS one) on their site. I prefer the more playful and colorful ones, they strike me as much more clever and engaging.
The odds are that the numbers were chosen more or less at random, but I can’t help reading meanings in (busted, I’m a sports fan). WARHOL 23 makes sense for anyone who knows who Michael Jordan is [Update: DM reader “ThatGuy” points out that Warhol is 28 on all three shirts], and beyond that, I admire the use of rather high numbers. In baseball high numbers are generally used for scrubs who don’t play, the types who make it to spring training and then don’t make the squad. If we’re talking football, the numbers have specific meanings—for instance, a number in the 80s means you’re a wide receiver, anywhere from 50 to 79 means you’re either a lineman or a linebacker, and so on.
Haring risking arrest to wish New Yorker’s a happy Valentine’s Day
Aired on January 20th, 1990, this French interview was recorded soon before Keith Haring’s death at age 31 from AIDS-related complications. Haring is warm and charismatic throughout, graciously venerating his peers and responding earnestly to questions about his decision to mass market his work.
While Haring’s art has certainly proved lucrative (some of his sweeter images even grace baby bibs nowadays, much of the income going to The Keith Haring Foundation for pediatric AIDS), he was an artist of the people, and originally opened his “Pop Shop” boutique to make his work available to “not only collectors, but kids from the Bronx.” Many critics thought this actually hurt his reputation with “serious” collectors (i.e. big money), since many were less interested in art so easily accessible to the hoi polloi.
In an awkward/endearing moment, the interviewer asks Haring how much his paintings actually sell for, to which Haring replies, “Now it’s ridiculous.” Upon further pressing, Haring says incredulously that some small drawings had recently sold for, ahem, $25,000, each. Apparently all those graffiti fines were actually a sound investment. And so would an investment be in a small Keith Haring original…
I was going to post a short notice about these two sure to be interesting evenings at NYU this week, but I thought the story told by the press release was worth presenting here in full.
Of mild interest to DM readers, my own tape-recorded recollections of the late Nelson Sullivan are part of this archive (I knew Nelson and rented a tiny room from him for about 6 months in his ramshackle house at 5 Ninth Ave. when I was 21). Robert Coddington, who valiantly cataloged this amazing collection and kept it together, is a friend of mine and someone I hold in high regard. It’s really a tribute to his scholarship and tenacity that this collection is going to be housed at NYU, where it belongs, for future scholars who want to understand what happened “downtown” during the 1980s (I can’t help but to add “...before NYU drove up the property values and forced all of the bohemians out!”). Robert, and the wonderful Dick Richards, the real hero of this story (and a man who should have a documentary made about him) have done history a big favor, they really have.
The 1980s were the plague years in NYC, make no mistake about it. A lot of us had close friends who died. But it was also a fun, decadent and deeply weird time to have been young. Sullivan’s tapes capture that time like literally nothing else could.
Long Days’ Journey Downtown—Nelson Sullivan’s Video Archive Back in NYC After 23 Years
Completing a trek across many miles and more than two decades, a remarkable trove of video tapes chronicling the golden age of New York’s 1980s club scene is back where it was created—in downtown Manhattan. In October, New York University’s Fales Library & Special Collections accepted the Nelson Sullivan Video Archive as a donation from Atlantans Dick Richards and David Goldman, and Robert Coddington of Durham, N.C.—operating collectively as the 5 Ninth Avenue Project.
On April 25, the Fales Library will host a panel discussion to mark the archive’s official entry into its collections. Coddington will talk about Sullivan’s body of work, and how he and his partners worked to preserve it. Several artists featured in the video tapes also are expected to attend and add their recollections of Sullivan and the scene he documented. The event begins at 6 p.m. on April 25 at the Fales Library, third floor, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South. This event is free and open to the public.
In the early 1980s, Nelson Sullivan began using then-newly available portable video technology to document the highs and lows of downtown’s world of invites, catfights, train wrecks and rising stars. The equipment was heavy and expensive, but night after night Sullivan lugged it along from SoHo to Coney Island and all points inbetween—from huge discos (like Limelight and Tunnel) to tiny dives (like the Pyramid) and private parties (where he circulated with Warhol-era superstars and freshly minted celebrities like RuPaul and Deee-Lite).
Sullivan’s video archive grew rapidly, taking up shelf after shelf in the creaky three-story townhouse he rented in the Meatpacking District (at 5 9th Ave. and Gansevoort, today site of the restaurant 5 9th). And while he accommodated friends’ requests for copies, he jealously guarded the original tapes—confident he would one day devise a way to present them to the world. Finally, in the spring of 1989, Sullivan decided to make the collection his life’s work: He quit his job at the famous Joseph Patelson Music House (just across from Carnegie Hall’s stage door) and set out to launch a public access cable program showcasing his tapes. But tragically, after completing just one episode, he died of a sudden heart attack in the early morning hours of Independence Day. Seven years after it began, Sullivan’s quest to document the downtown scene was over.
Sullivan’s one-of-a-kind archive might have been picked apart by souvenir-hunters—or worse, left on the curb—had it not been for Dick Richards. Though grief-stricken at the loss of his lifelong friend—the two grew up together in rural South Carolina—Richards acted quickly, flying to New York, securing the collection, and shipping it to the Atlanta home he shared with his domestic partner David Goldman and his business partner Ted Rubenstein (co-founder, with Richards, of Funtone USA, which released RuPaul’s first three recordings).
“The video archive Nelson had created was so extraordinary that I knew I had to do whatever I could to save it,” Richards recalls. “What Nelson was doing was entirely unique. When you watch the tapes, you’ll search in vain to find another person who’s video taping these events. With AIDS ravaging the community and changing it forever, his was basically the only personal video testimony of a scene that was rapidly disintegrating.”
Back in Atlanta, Richards publicized the tapes by showing selections on “The American Music Show,” the weekly public access cable program he co-produced with Potsy Duncan and Bud “Beebo” Lowry.
Then, on a 1993 trip to tape the show at Foxy’s Lounge in Chicago, Richards and Goldman met Robert Coddington, who was involved in the Windy City’s club scene and burgeoning Queercore movement. Coddington, 23, longed to learn about the wild days that had preceded his own coming of age in the gay community, and upon hearing about the archive was eager to learn of the lost landscape it revealed.
“As a young gay man at the time, I had this acute sense that I was arriving at a fabulous party—five minutes after the lights came on,” Coddington says. “I knew that AIDS was ripping apart the gay culture that had existed before. I began to ask myself What was that world and what were those people like? Upon experiencing Nelson’s tapes, I began to learn the answers to those questions.”
Beginning in 2001, Richards and Coddington worked together to organize and chronicle the collection, producing four highlight DVDs (“Mad About Manhattan,” “The Club Kids,” “Nelson Sullivan’s Fabulous Friends,” and “Legends of New York”). In 2004, Coddington edited Sullivan’s “My Life In Video” for the New Museum’s East Village USA exhibition, which also featured works by Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, Keith Haring and Nan Goldin. In 2007, Coddington presented and discussed archive highlights at Atlanta’s Eye-Drum Gallery. Richards launched a YouTube channel dedicated to the collection: To date, it has logged more than 750,000 views.
Sullivan’s videos have been shown in more than 20 solo and group shows and film festivals across Europe, Australia, South America and North America. Videographers from Switzerland and France produced short documentary films on Sullivan for Europe’s ARTE channel. Los Angeles-based World of Wonder created a film on Sullivan for Britain’s Channel 4.
But as the collection’s fame spread, its ultimate survival was far from certain. The archive of more than 600 tapes remained boxed in a back room at Richards’ and Goldman’s century-old house in Inman Park (site of the 1864 Battle of Atlanta). Without an institutional “forever home,” the three partners feared the tapes’ initial escape from the dumpster might have been only temporary.
That’s when Sullivan’s videos got a powerful champion in the form of the Fales Library. The addition of the archive brought an exciting new dimension to Fales’ Downtown Collection, which already included the papers of such influential entities as the Gay Cable Network, the Red Hot Organization, Dennis Cooper, Michaelangelo Signorile, Richard Hell and Ande Whyland.
“Nelson Sullivan was the chronicler of the demimonde downtown New York scene,” said Marvin J. Taylor, director of the Fales Library. “He was everywhere that was important at just the right time. But, he was more than that. When Nelson turned his video camera on himself as flaneur of downtown, he found his own artistic, queer, postmodern voice. We’re honored to have Nelson’s videos here at NYU.”
“Seen on the Scene”
Here are a few of the personalities of note featured in the Nelson Sullivan Video Archive. Click on the links to view selected clips.
A lecture/screening presented by Robert Coddington will take place on Wednesday April 24 at the Einstein Auditorium in NYU’s Barney Building on Stuyvesant Street. It is free and open to the public and will feature videos of Keith Haring, Rock Steady Crew, RuPaul, Leigh Bowery, Ethyl Eichelberger, Fran Lebowitz, Michael Musto, Lady Miss Kier and more…
The following evening, Thursday April 25th, at the third floor Fales Library at the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library on Washington Square South, there will be a celebration of the life and work of Nelson Sullivan with Michael Musto, Lady Miss Kier, Robert Coddington, drag historian Joe E. Jeffreys, performance artist Flloyd and photographer Paula Gately Tillman.
In 1986, Keith Haring got a $25 ticket for painting graffiti on a handball court in East Harlem. Perhaps sensing the crack epidemic of the 1980s reaching a fever pitch, the Parks Department contacted him months later with a request to finish the mural. The two murals on either side of the wall not only still stand, the Parks Department has officially named the park the “Crack is Wack Playground,” acknowledging it among the most salient dedications of public art in the city.
Haring, one of the quintessential New York City artists, died in 1990 of AIDS related complications, and in a poignant way, signaled the passing of a cultural moment.