A retrospective of the fabulous nobodies who ruled New York nightlife during the period 1987-1990 photographed by nightlife documentarian John Simone. Images include RuPaul, Michael Alig, Madonna, Cher, Michael Jackson, Liza Minnelli, Sandra Bernhard, Divine, Halston, Barbra Streisand and Keith Haring. To June 29. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. 12 Alexander St.
Artist’s Statement and Biography: John Simone
Legends of N.Y Nitelife, to be exhibited June 21st – June 29th, 2014 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre is John Simone’s first solo show in Canada. The show portrays iconic celebrities, club kids, drag queens, rappers, street society, uptown and downtown, stylish and freakish.
John Simone writes about the Relation of Michael Alig to Andy Warhol:
John Simone’s work chronicles the evolution of the avant-garde in New York nightlife. The week before he moved to New York Warhol died, at the age of 57. Less than six months later, Post-Warhol New York became fascinated by the full-frontal attack on fashion and good taste by Michael Alig and his club kids, who were fleeing suburbia towards nightlife notoriety as full-fledged fabulous nobodies. Michael Alig was the ersatz Warhol who had an ad hoc Factory force of 400 freaks that Alig re-christened with silly club names, like Ruben Sandwich and Alexander the Grape. They faithfully followed him onto the front pages of fanzines like Project X Magazine, edited by Michael Alig, with provocative photos by John Simone. In the guise of innocent nerd, Simone infiltrated this underground unimpeded, and recorded the outré masques which actually exposed an aching vulnerability. His voyeurism exposed the aspirations of this manic, uber-fashion-victim vanguard.
“Alig was the frenzied Svengali of the New York club kid scene that exploded into existence in the void left by Andy Warhol’s death in 1987. Michael turned self-promotion into high-art exhibitionistic mayhem. As mass-media bacchanalian brats and marketing opportunists, Alig and the club kids entertained each other, as well as an entire media-driven metropolis. March 17th, 1996 Alig and his , room-mate, hat designer Robert Riggs, inadvertently sent a shock-wave through the city with the killing of drug-dealer acquaintance Angel Melendez. The salience of Alig’s plea-bargain in the self-defense manslaughter of ecstasy pusher Melendez is apt.
The Dionysian envelope was pushed beyond the scope of a nightlife cult’s ritualistic self-exploitation, and devolved into the shocking literalism of Angel’s dismembered body. The brazenness of the clique of 1987 and the carte blanche offered by New York subterranean society has its antecedent in Warhol’s original silver factory (circa ’63-66, in Turtle Bay). Aimless youth hung around, injected speed in their butts and shamelessly expressed themselves sexually. Alig even used his mother Elke as his very own Edie Sedgwick and fed her ecstasy. Alig was paramount among the demonized denizens of nightlife during the 1980’s, simply proving that a certain underclass of every generation will find a thrilling relevancy in absolute debauchery. “(Xtra Magazine, May 1998)
Simone has embraced, documented and participated in the brave metaphors expressed through style fetishes which defy the confining categories of Post-war sexuality. While fiercely flashing the scene, Simone is bent on validating the existence of self-inventing personae. In the process, he documents the creation of an untamed fashion world that challenges mainstream culture. Simone’s influences are clearly seen in the works of Brassai, WeeGee and Arbus: shots of whores, criminals and freaks.
“If you want to conquer the world, you must move to its capital New York.” Quentin Crisp
I left Toronto in 1986, after graduating from the University of Toronto, and New York was more accessible than Rome.
In Toronto I had sold Polaroids to approximately 20,000 people at Sparkles disco in the CN Tower, The Copa Nightclub in Yorkville, The Diamond on Sherbourne and the party boat, Mariposa Belle. That was a gig that I could repeat in New York, so I left Toronto on a quest for glitz and glamour.
In New York I set myself up as house photographer at Club 10-18 (The Roxy), after a short stint at the Cat Club in the Village. This club was one of the biggest in Manhattan, attracting the high-end Bridge and Tunnel crowd. They were the top echelon of the drug world, with yards of thick gold chains and medallions, embossed Gucci leather sweat suits and gallons of Cristal. For two years I supported all of my artistic activities in New York with ten hours a week selling Polaroids at 10-18. For a short time, October 1987 – January 1988, I even moonlit at the re-opened Studio 54, where on Halloween and New Year’s Eve, I sold more than 800 photos. At that point, I was willing to do any type of work in order to remain in the city and finance my curiosity about a cut-throat but fertile creative environment.
My career as a photojournalist started with the original Details magazine. I began getting invited to club events and I photographed the fabulous, almost-famous people that I met, developing a liking for the subtleties of 35mm. I met Stephen Saban who was the legendary nightlife columnist for Details and he asked me to show him my contact sheets. No-one captured the flavour and zeal of clubland better than Stephen Saban. His taste shaped my approach to the Details material, because he was particular about whom he selected for his column, but honest when it was time to acknowledge people’s transition from wannabe to celebrity.
My big move from Polaroid hustler to party hustler came courtesy of Michael Alig, whose promotional talents tapped into the pulse of a Manhattan youthquake. This happened in the nick of time, because Club 10-18 closed following an explosion of gang activity. One patron was found stabbed in the men’s room. At an all-ages event featuring La Toya Jackson, on Christmas Day 1988, gangs had a shootout there; I ran for my life as bullets were flying. I had already been working with Alig as Chief Photographer on his Project X Magazine, supplying photos for his Club Rub column, my Celebrity Sheet column, fashion spreads, and the magazine’s covers, so Alig said to me, “John, you know people, bring me parties.”
Alig had organized a show of my club photographs, called Subterranean Society: The Photographs of John Simone, at the Tunnel nightclub in 1988. The first party I produced and promoted for Alig was a publishing event for Lee Tulloch’s novel Fabulous Nobodies at the Red Zone in 1989. It was a novel about a girl in love with her clothes and it was set in the New York nightlife scene. The event featured a slide show of my photos of just such fabulous nobodies, who happened to reign over New York nightlife at that time. Many of these mavens are the people represented in my work. They were the fiercest, most fascinating fashion freaks to hit New York nightlife in a decade. Not since Studio 54 and the Mudd Club’s heyday had so much energy been put into dressup after dark.
But the shamelessly self-promoting club denizens were no less important to me than the mainstream celebrities who were the other subjects of my work. The tension between pose and personality captured my interest, whether it was Michael Jackson or Cher, or club kids like Fuschia Baby Doll, Harlequin Romanzes or club kid patron saint Leigh Bowery.
When Anthony Haden-Guest published his history of Studio 54 and nightlife The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of Night, it inspired the group exhibition The Last Party: Nightworld in Photographs that launched the Serge Sorokko Gallery in New York City in 1997. To illustrate 100 years of nightlife history, curator Helen Varola chose 37 images from my archive, in a show with over 200 other photographs by artists as legendary as Arbus, Avedon, WeeGee and Warhol. The show was captured in its very own special edition of American Photo magazine. In 1998 I subsequently exhibited 69 slides in a show called New York Media Whores, in the Walker Court at the Art Gallery of Ontario, during the opening night Warhol Party, for The Warhol Look exhibition. In 2004, the Flash! Show at Edward Day Gallery showed 58 of my images spanning my years in New York, in a group exhibition.
Over the last two decades, the range of my creative interest has enlarged, to include nature photography and documentation of world cultures. Thus, I have built my archive by traveling to 70 countries, using my work to illustrate my own photography course, which I have taught to thousands of people.
It is twenty-five years since I took the New York photos, but these images are not merely nostalgic; they revisit a unique milieu, recording social history of particular relevance to the gay community.
It’s a selection of those edgy images which are featured in the WorldPride exhibit, Exploding Pink Inevitable at the Nuit Rose event in the Ballroom of the Gladstone Hotel.