The East Village Preservation Society: Club 57’s Ann Magnuson & Kenny Scharf
07:07 am

Pop Culture

Ann Magnuson
Kenny Scharf

Photo of Kenny Scharf by Wendy Wild

During a high school theatre outing to New York in 1981, I managed to sneak away for a while to buy a few punk-rock records in the East Village. Walking down St. Mark’s Place, I saw a guy sporting the most outrageously high bleach-blond pompadour I’d ever seen. He was wearing a pink Teddy Boy suit and pink brothel creeper shoes. His companion was a busty blonde who looked like Dolly Parton, and dressed just like her, too. Even in the context of New York at that time, they were two groovy, glamorous celebrities from the future.

A few weeks later, I saw a photo of the flamboyantly dressed duo by Amy Arbus in the Village Voice, which must have been shot on the day that I saw them because they were wearing the same clothes. His name was John Sex and hers was Katy K. His profession was listed as “lounge singer/male stripper” and she was a fashion designer (Katy K did – and maybe still does – make stage clothes for Dolly Parton).

By the early 80s, the myth of Warhol and the sexy, druggy, doomed denizens who were his Factory’s superstars had spread pretty much everywhere, even to the remotest redneck corners of America (like my West Virginia hometown). For a certain type of kid, what they imagined Andy Warhol’s social life to be provided the impetus to move to New York City and reinvent themselves like the people in the photograph, who were associated with Club 57, a nightclub in the basement of a church where all the young art-school types hung out. They seemed like the second generation, drawn in by that Warhol myth but doing their own things.

East Village painters, musicians, performance artists, filmmakers, clothing designers and DJs had a second home at Club 57, run by Susan Hannaford, Tom Scully and performance artist Ann Magnuson, who was the manager, “den mother” and today the most emblematic person of that time and place. This trio provided an artsy/campy playground for the neighborhood misfits; Club 57 was a Fellini-esque salon for art shows, demented parties and elaborate DIY theme nights done on the cheap. The inspirations for the kooky neo-Dada Club 57 gestalt were things like The Sonny & Cher Show, kids TV shows, monster movies, 60s fashion, New Wave music and of course, Andy Warhol, its patron saint.

By the time I got to New York in 1984, Club 57 was gone, replaced by bigger clubs like Area and Danceteria, but the people who were a part of that scene still ruled New York nightlife. If you were at a party or art opening and people like Keith Haring, John Sex, Ann Magnuson, Joey Arias, Kenny Scharf, Fred Schneider and Jean-Michel Basquiat were there too, you knew you were in the right spot – they were the downtown royalty of the time. Within a few years, however, Hollywood had come calling for some and art-world fame and fortune for others. Then the ravages of AIDS truly ended the era.

Some 25 years later, museums are starting to catalogue and preserve the East Village 80s for posterity. A huge exhibition of paintings, photographs, sculptures, posters, party invitations, costumes and more, culled from the personal collections of Ann Magnuson, Kenny Scharf, Joey Arias, Howie Pyro and others – and curated jointly by Magnuson and Scharf – opened at the Royal/T gallery in Los Angeles in late 2011. Magnuson and Scharf are currently trying to figure out where the exhibition will travel next.

Richard Metzger: Nightlife scenes rarely form out of thin air; how did Club 57 come together?

Kenny Scharf: Keith Haring, John Sex (then known simply as John McLaughlin), Drew Straub and I were basically wandering the streets in the middle of the day, students at the School of Visual Arts. After having a 50¢ drink at the Holiday Cocktail Lounge, we went next door to Club 57 and saw a great jukebox, so we stayed. When the music began, Ann appeared from behind the bar – yes, a bar serving alcohol at a youth club under a church – and we all started wildly go-go dancing. Thus our immediate bond began!

Photo of Ann Magnuson at Club 57 by Robert Carrithers

Ann Magnuson: The core Club 57 crowd definitely cohered in the church basement, but many of us first met at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. I met Susan Hannaford and Tom Scully the year I arrived in NYC – 1978 – and we formed an alliance that produced the New Wave Vaudeville Show together. That was the show where Klaus Sperber metamorphosed into Klaus Nomi. Almost everyone involved with the vaudeville show migrated over to Club 57. Kenny brought in his fellow SVA students like Keith Haring, Wendy Wild and John Sex. I knew Jean-Michel Basquiat already.

Kenny Scharf: Ann and Klaus Nomi came to my first show in 1979 at the Fiorucci boutique, and she asked me if I would like to show some art at Club 57. Soon after, I had a show called Celebration of the Space Age, where we served Tang and Space Food Sticks.

Ann Magnuson: Others were simply drawn in off the street by the posters for the Monster Movie Club. The original Misfits came in that way. The jukebox drew people in who liked to dance. Club 57 basically became a magnet for anyone interested in punk rock, obscure horror and exploitation films, 60s fashion and alternative neo-Dada theatre experiences. It was truly a neighbourhood hangout so anyone in the East Village who cared to could drift in and out. Some stayed longer than others.

Richard Metzger: Club 57 seems like it was running parallel to punk/New Wave in NYC, but not necessarily a part of it. How much overlap was there?

Ann Magnuson: Oh, Club 57 was definitely part of punk and New Wave. And everyone who went to Club 57 went to the Mudd Club too, or Max’s, or even Hurrah’s uptown.

Kenny Scharf: We all went to CBGBs and the Mudd Club, too, but Club 57 was really ours.

Richard Metzger: It seems like there was a lot of that Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney ‘Hey kids, let’s put on a show!’ spirit at Club 57. What are some of the ‘happenings’ that occurred there?

Ann Magnuson: We didn’t let anyone tell us ‘no’. We didn’t allow poverty to stop us from realising our wildest imaginings. One of my favorites was Putt-Putt Reggae, where we built a miniature golf-course out of boxes pulled from the trash and made it resemble a Jamaican shanty town, and the DJ played dub music. We had a hash-brownie-fuelled slumber party with go-go boys that the church father walked in on…

Kenny Scharf: It was terrible to leave town even for a few days for fear of missing something.

Ann Magnuson: Keith Haring curated the Erotic Art Show. There was a photo of a giant phallus at the entrance, and when I saw the church father coming towards us I had to head him off. It’s amazing we got away with what we did. In fact, a special neighbourhood meeting was called to complain about us. The neighbours asked Father John why he ‘allowed evil people in the church’ and he said, ‘That’s where evil people should be, in a church.’ God bless him!

Kenny Scharf: One night, I think it was Elvis night, we started a street brawl where I ended up hitting an off-duty cop on the head for punching a girl I knew in the face. It was dismissed because he was arrested on the court date for murdering his boyfriend.

Ann Magnuson: Another event was called Radio Free Europe, because I was obsessed with these communist fashion and lifestyle magazines I had found, and the neighbourhood was predominately Polish and Ukrainian anyway, so why not? I debuted my Russian pop star character Anoushka there (with her band Polska ’66). We gave (Russian accent) ‘free beet and potato at door’ to the members.

Read the rest with more images) at Dazed Digital. The interview appeared in print in the March issue of Dazed & Confused.

Photo of John Sex by Andee Whyland
Below, a clip from The Nomi Song documentary, where you see the debut of Klaus Nomi in The New Wave Vaudeville Show, as described above.

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East Village 80s: Dany Johnson’s ‘Club 57’ mix
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Ann Magnuson
Kenny Scharf
Club 57
Dany Johnson

Icon of perversion Jack Smith, Club 57 DJ Dany Johnson and Ann Magnuson at a party on Crosby Street, 1980. Photo by Ande Whyland.

In anticipation of the opening this weekend of Ann Magnuson and Kenny Scharf’s big East Village West exhibit at the Royal/T gallery in Los Angeles, original Club 57 D.J. Dany Johnson has made an exclusive two-hour musical mix for Dangerous Minds readers:

Club 57 was a magical little club in the basement of a Polish church at 57 St. Marks Place. This mix is like a mixed salad of all the kinds of stuff I played. I spent many nights digging through my old suitcase full of the 45s I had picked up at neighborhood thrift shops, mixing them with records by my contemporary favorites such as ESG, Bush Tetras, Tom Tom Club and the like. This mix may be a little more mixed up than a typical set I would have played, but not by much. There might be some places where I waited too long for the next record or put one on too soon, just like the old days. The only way it could be more authentic is if I spilled a gin and tonic on it.

  Club 57 mix by Dany Johnson

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East Village West: Ambitious exhibit of NYC’s fabled 70/80s art scene opens in LA

Photo of Ann Magnuson at Club 57 by Robert Carrithers

The block quoted text below is a slightly edited email that Dangerous Minds pal Ann Magnuson sent me this morning regarding an amazing sounding art exhibit that she and artist Kenny Scharf are curating at the quirky Royal/T gallery in Los Angeles. Titled “East Village West” (in official partnership with “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980”) the show aims to link the fabled New York neo-Dada art scene of the late 70s/early 80s that coalesced around Magnuson’s Club 57 nightclub with its campy Hollywood influences. In the words of the curators “Walt Disney, Russ Meyer, Roger Corman, The Beverly Hillbillies, Sonny & Cher, The Partridge Family, Hanna-Barbera, Ed Wood, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, Sid and Marty Krofft, The Monkees, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, The Mamas & The Papas, the cast of Rowan & Martin’s LAUGH-IN, Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, Rodney Bingenheimer and his glam rock English Disco and every Shindig-lovin’, hullabaloo-ing teenager who ever rioted on the Sunset Strip.”

This is a museum-quality show, another art world score for Royal/T.

The exhibit is primarily art and ephemera from the collections and archives of Kenny and myself. Funny enough, I was finally sorting through all my East Village memorabilia when Kenny called me and asked if I’d take on the lions share of this curating job as he has a big show coming up and is painting night and day. It’s become massive! We have paintings, sculpture, fashions, video, photographs, ephemera….it is really a museum quality show! We focus primarily on Club 57 but there are many other elements as well…

We have art by Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat (one real and two of my fakes), Tseng Kwong Chi, John Sex, Kitty Brophy showing art she’s never shown before, Bruno Schmidt, Kenny Scharf, Ann Magnuson, Vincent Gallo, Frank Holliday, Scott Covert, Stefano Castronova, Nancy A. Kintisch, Greer Lankton’s Terri Toye doll, Paul Monroe, Plasticgod and Randy Focazio; photographs by Robert Carrithers, Harvey Wang, Ande Whyland, Lina Bertucci, Joseph Szkodzinski; video by Barry Shils, Steve Brown, Andy Rees, Tom Rubnitz, and others; fashions by Natasha Adonzio (Natasha N.Y.C.) and Katy K; special ‘vintage’ DJ mix by original Club 57 DJ Dany Johnson in the “Porta Party” installation pod; PLUS cool ephemera and rare video provided by original Club 57 members like Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman, Kristian Hoffman, Howie Pyro, Naomi Regelson, Jerry Beck and so many more! PLUS excerpts from THE NOMI SONG (directed by Andrew Horn) and ARIAS WITH A TWIST (directed by Bobby Sheehan)!

We are showing a lot of John Sex’s art that has never been exhibited. He made these gorgeous silkscreens and several feature Klaus Nomi. We also have many of the beautiful large silkscreen posters he did for events at Club 57.

Joey Arias is sending us several of Klaus Nomi’ costumes.  The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Postmodernism show is currently showing two of Klaus’ costumes. They wanted the vinyl coat that we will be exhibiting (a very early costume of Klaus’ that he had made based on the Sixties plastic raincoat Howie Pyro stole out of his mother’s closet so Klaus could use it to create his Nomi character that he debuted at the New Wave Vaudeville show). Joey couldn’t find it when he was gathering items for the V&A but he finally did find it and he sent it to us! (Howie is also DJ at the opening).

There is a beautiful slide show featuring work from 5 different photographers on the scene. LOADS of video including live footage from Club 57 never shown. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (who won the Tony for HAIRSPRAY) did some of their first musicals at Club 57 and we have a clip from one of them. Clip from THE NOMI SONG about the New Wave Vaudeville show and clips from ARIAS WITH A TWIST to give the youngin’s a quick East Village history lesson.

Kenny Scharf videos (very Warholian if Warhol was a complete goofball), my MADE FOR TV, the video of the Ladies Auxilliary LADY WRESTLING night…

A compilation of our California influences that were transmitted into our still forming noggins via TV edited by Jonathon Stearns that I KNOW you are gonna love.

A special display for the Monster Movie Club (Howie Pyro lending us his MMC t-shirt).

Young members of the ‘new generation’ carrying on the tradition of Club 57 will be performing. Fresh off last seasons AMERICA’S GOT TALENT, Prince Poppycock will sing The Mumps song THAT FATAL CHARM to a track he is recording with Kristian Hoffman (who wrote the song). Another Hoffman hit is one originally sung by Klaus Nomi and sung by Timur of the Dime Museum who is simple astounding! Drag King Mo B. Dick is ‘coming out of retirement’ to do John Sex (John Waters says she is his favorite Drag King, she was featured in PECKER) , and more! (Everyone is listed in text below).

Austin Young is doing an on site art installation called CALIFORNIA NEW WAVE creating New Wave makeovers, Austin Young style.

Dany Johnson made a 4-hour DJ mix of her Club 57 favorites.

The list goes on! As you can see, the show and the opening in particular is going to be a bona fide old skool ART HAPPENING!

We encourage everyone to pull their pointy toed shoes and ripped fishnets out of mothballs and come on down!

We hope to inspire and encourage the young kids how to have fun and be wildly creative with no money! We did it during the first great recession, it can be done during the second!

The details: Royal/T presents East Village West, curated by Ann Magnuson and Kenny Scharf. From October 1, 2011 until January 10, 2012. Opening reception Saturday, October 1, 8-11pm

DJ Howie Pyro and performances by Prince Poppycock, Timur of The Dime Museum, Drag King “Mo B. Dick” as John Sex (along with “his” Bodacious Ta-Tas), Stacy Dawson Stearns, Gregory Barnett, and Meg Wolfe are The Psych-Out Dada Go-Go Family and of course Ann Magnuson and Kenny Scharf.

Plus video from Club 57 never before shown in public. Doughnuts are promised.

Below, a slideshow of some of Harvey Wang’s great photos of Club 57:


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Klaus Nomi: Watch ‘The Nomi Song’ documentary for free

Watch a FREE video stream of The Nomi Song, Andrew Horn’s excellent 2004 documentary about New Wave opera diva from outer-space, Klaus Nomi. Follows the rise of Nomi’s unlikely career until his death in 1983 from AIDS complications. With Kristian Hoffman, Kenny Scharf, Ann Magnuson, Tony Frere, Page Wood, David McDermott and in a great performance clip, David Bowie and Joey Arias. Oddly sponsored by American Express.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:

The Spectrum: Psychedelic funhouse designed by Damon Albarn’s Father


Witness “The Spectrum” a fantastically psychedelic carnival fun house designed by Keith Albarn (father of Damon Albarn, a man considered a musical god in this household). Sadly this British Pathe film short is probably the only thing that remains of it and there is little to no information about it anywhere on the Internet. I’d have loved a chance to see this in person!


Watching this I got to thinking about a different druggy funhouse on this side of the pond—also no longer standing—the infamous Palladium night club of New York City. Once the fabled Palladium Ballroom, where Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, Patti Smith, The Clash and Lou Reed all played, the Palladium reopened in 1985 owned by former jailbirds Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, who had previously run Studio 54. Artists like Francesco Clemente, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Laurie Anderson and Arata Isozaki were all commissioned to build installations.

The staircase was amazing (especially if you were super high!) and the Basquiat mural behind the upstairs bar was nothing short of astonishing (and really huge). A house would crash from the ceiling onto the dance floor like the one that killed the Wicked Witch of the West. It was a fantastically decadent place to spend one’s youth. Now it’s an NYU dorm with a Trader Joe’s grocery store downstairs! (I wonder if they were able to preserve the Basquiat? It was painted on the wall and probably as valuable as the real estate itself).


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