A lively, messy scrapbook of a show, “The Last Party” surveys, as per its subtitle, the “Influence of New York’s Club Culture: Mid-70s to Early ’90s.” Presenting photographs, videos, paintings and a re-creation of the Mars Bar, the famous dive that became a tourist attraction, this exhibition looks back on a downtown scene of gleeful debauchery.
It’s fascinating to peruse the scores of photographs of Andy Warhol, Deborah Harry, David Byrne, Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor, the Ramones and many other luminaries hanging out in places like Studio 54, CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. It’s like flipping through back issues of People magazine.
The show was organized by the writer Anthony Haden-Guest, whose 1997 book, “The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night,” chronicled the rise and fall of a subculture that replaced the psychedelic utopianism of the 1960s with a cocaine-driven ethos of manic decadence.
The influence of club culture on art in particular isn’t well demonstrated. Myriad small paintings and drawings by dozens of artists, from Adrian Piper and Karen Finley to Rick Prol and Walter Robinson, are too disparate and idiosyncratic to amount to anything cohesive. It would have helped if there were major works by Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring, whose paintings exuberantly channeled the era’s determinedly fun-loving spirit.
Undoubtedly, the period gave rise to lots of exciting creative activity in New York. Was then a more fertile time for art and culture than now? That’s a question worth debating.
‘The Last Party: The Influence of New York’s Club Culture: Mid-70s to Early ’90s’
329 Broome Street, between the Bowery and Chrystie Street, Lower East Side
Through Aug. 23