Who would have thought that the basement of a Catholic church would serve as a crucible of creativity in the East Village in the early Reagan era? One did, however, and it is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Modern art called “Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978–1983“.
Built in 1850 as a single family home, 57 St. Mark’s Place was home to a social club called The Mansion by the 1920’s, and in the middle of the century became the Holy Cross Polish National Catholic Church. Starting in the late 1970’s and continuing on into the early 1980’s, the basement of the church was transformed into Club 57. It soon became renowned for its theme nights, performance art, and live music.
The exhibit is supported in part by the Keith Haring Foundation; Haring was a frequent patron of Club 57 while a student at SVA, and had his first show there.
As impressive as that is, Club 57 drew many more notables than just Keith Haring. The club was founded by Stanley Zbigniew as a venue for performance and as a way to generate revenue for the Church; visual artists and musicians, including Madonna, Keith Haring, Cyndi Lauper, Charles Busch, Klaus Nomi, The B-52s, RuPaul, Futura 2000, Kenny Scharf, Lypsinka, Fab Five Freddy, flocked there. By 1979 Ann Magnuson, Susan Hannaford, and Tom Scully were programming regular events there too.
From the upcoming exhibition description:
Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978–1983 is the first major exhibition examining the scene-changing, interdisciplinary life of downtown New York’s seminal alternative space in full. The exhibition will tap into the legacy of Club 57’s founding curatorial staff—film programmers Susan Hannaford and Tom Scully, exhibition organizer Keith Haring, and performance curator Ann Magnuson—to examine how the convergence of film, video, performance, art, and curatorship in the club environment of New York in the 1970s and 1980s became a model for a new spirit of interdisciplinary endeavor. Responding to the broad range of programming at Club 57, the exhibition will present their accomplishments across a range of disciplines—from film, video, performance, and theater to photography, painting, drawing, printmaking, collage, zines, fashion design, and curating. Building on extensive research and oral history, the exhibition features many works that have not been exhibited publicly since the 1980s.”
Though Club 57 barely lasted 5 years, its impacts ripple decades later. See the building and see the show.