Earlier this week, the Mudd Club Rummage Sale was a blaze of both names and activity in the castle-courtyard-like ground-floor space of the Roxy Hotel on 6th Avenue.
The artist Maripol was screaming “Where is the Bobby Grossman picture of Jean-Michel Basquiat?” as I arrived in time to see the preliminary goings-on.
This now-annual event, taking the name of the legendary New York nightclub of the late 1970s and early 1980s, features, as the event organizers put it, "famed treasures, cool collectibles, and fashion finds from designers, rock stars, photographers, luminaries, big-wigs, and significant somebodies."
Debbie Harry had given outfits including a blue dress, and there were bits and pieces of stuff from the likes of Agnès B and Chanel. The photographer Marcia Resnick had brought several pictures, including one from her last shoot of John Belushi. Gina Nanni was circling a pile of books written by her late husband, Glenn O’Brien.
There was a large photo by Edo Bertoglio of “The Lurie Bros.,” perhaps better known as The Lounge Lizards, essential shots of the Mudd itself by Bob Gruen, and on the rear wall, looming like a church window, a sheet of Maripol’s polaroids taken during the shoot of Downtown 81, the movie about Basquiat, made by O’Brien, Bertoglio and Maripol, including shots of Warhol, Basquiat and the bands Tuxedo Moon and Kid Creole & the Coconuts.
As the moment for the opening of the rummage sale drew near I was sitting in a space at the back with Stephen Mass, the begetter of the Mudd Club, who was wearing a cap, a checkered shirt and a three day stubble, when a beaming man approached him.
This was Dave Jones, director of the Bowery Mission, the beneficiaries of this, the second Mudd Club rummage sale, as they had been of the first, which had also been at the Roxy in December 2015.
The Bowery Mission sits alongside the New Museum, and outside it, any day, you will see upwards from a dozen human casualties, not Reality TV, merely real, standing there, never trying to interact with the well-heeled passers-by, just sticking out, an unignorable sore thumb in the New Bowery of art galleries and hipster hotels.
A few years back a story got around that the Mission had been sold up and was to be replaced by yet another glimmering high-rise, which is just what the area least needs, so it sounded depressingly credible, but this turned out to be another specialty of our time, a seductive chunk of unreal news.
The Bowery Mission survives, so it was a fine pick by Steve Mass, both in itself and as an appropriate salute to the Mudd Club as it was, a place where the gritty realities of street life co-existed with the fantasy life of Nightworld.
“It was a one-man operation,” said Mass, who was in a reminiscent mood. He pointed out that Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager had already been club owners when they opened Studio 54 and that Howard Stein of Xenon was thoroughly conversant with the economics of the trade. ‘I came from an academic background’’ he said. “I just did it. I took all the decisions. Like I booked U2.”
The Mudd Club had been at 77 White, a hop, skip and jump from the Roxy. It had opened in October 1978 in a building owned by the artist, Ross Bleckner, more or less opposite Manhattan’s most endearing topless bar, the Baby Doll Lounge.
Mass had speedily turned the Mudd--which was named for the doctor who had treated Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth--into just about the first of the clubs of the time to make art an integral part of their project.
We talked of the late Ronnie Cutrone, who had run the studio in Andy Warhol’s factory. Mass had brought in a brutally Minimalist aesthetic by using a rolling metal sheet, like garage door, as a stage curtain. Cutrone had made it even more punishing by welding metal for use as ominous VIP rooms to confine such performers as Grace Jones.
Excellent Minimalist sculptures, right?
Steve Mass did a kind of eye-roll.
“Ian Schrager told me that they did the Mike Todd Room at Palladium because of Mudd,” he said. But he added, with a touch of rearview mirror wisdom, that many art-worlders had always acted as if they were a bit uncomfortable to be dealing with a club man in a curatorial capacity.
“It was as if they expected all club people to be loutish gangsters,” he said.
Like there are no loutish gangsters in the art world, I asked.
We wandered around the rummage sale space, which had been filling fast. Two young women floated by, mostly wearing translucent plastic bubbles. Chloë Sevigny was eying the chic merch by the likes of Agnès B.
I spotted Anton Perich, who had contributed his famous photo of Iggy Pop, looking as luminous and tormented as an El Greco saint. The photographers William Coupon and Allan Tannenbaum were weaving hither and thither. Lizzi Bougatsos was about to perform with her band Gang Gang Dance and I sat with the arts publicist, Molly Krause.
For way too long now innumerable young women--and way too many guys--can be seen on the street wearing jeans with holes in their knees, as a tribute to what? The poverty of others, like the people outside the Bowery Mission?
Sitting opposite us was a young woman with holes in the knees of her chic, patterny trousers. She was an Australian, her name was Aiko and she said that her trousers are from Zara. The gesture seemed as bizarrely on target as much one would see and hear at the Mudd Club, so long gone and so much missed.