featured gallery for August 2002

Revolutions Per Minute

For a number of artists in the Visual AIDS archive, club culture has informed their art-making practice. The complexity of what constitutes club culture includes the emergence of disco and funk as music genres in the 1970s, the rise of its harbingers (musicians, disc jockeys, discotheques, and club-goers), and its impact in the arts, popular culture, fashion, and technology. This cultural phenomenon was concurrent with a time of social change realized by U.S. identity-based liberation movements led by people of color, women, gay men, lesbians, and anti-war activists during the 1960s and 1970s. Therefore, dance clubs, with their ability to bring together people of diverse racial, class, and sexual backgrounds, embody utopian ideals of unity and coalition that were encouraged and heralded by these political movements. In many ways, the communal spaces of discos, nightclubs, bars, and sex clubs can be regarded as sites of resistance and freedom. This correlation was especially fulfilled, for instance, in 1969 by the documented rebellion against a routine police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village frequented by drag queens and transgendered patrons, which is now considered a historic epicenter of modern-day queer liberation.

Many of the works represented here are by artists engaged with New York City club culture. For Ronald Bruce Monroe, who frequented early discos such as The Loft in the late 1970s and then Paradise Garage in the 1980s, his intimate mixed-media boxes contain ephemera, simple shapes, moving lights, and found objects representing the exteriors and interiors of these no longer extant clubs. Like altars, Monroe's boxes express a certain reverence. One is topped with a crown and headphones, while another includes images of hooded monks in procession. The watercolors of Marc Lida from 1982 are figurative expressions of the many clubs and bars he visited including the Pyramid Club and Danceteria. Based on drawings he compiled in sketchbooks he brought to these places, the works present the lively and diverse dancing masses as a collective body. In August 1983, Lida even mounted an exhibition that included his own work titled Drawings of Sex and Death at the Pyramid Club in the East Village. For Keith Haring, the Paradise Garage, where influential resident DJ Larry Levan reigned and diva Grace Jones also performed, was probably his favorite club. In 1984, Haring organized his first Party of Life event around his birthday at the Paradise Garage and decorated the space with fellow graffiti artist LA II in fluorescent spray paint for the event. This party drew a mixed crowd from artworld and clubland celebrities to the Garage's own diverse predominately African American and Latino regulars. Joe DeHoyos's collages made from magazines pay tribute to creative personas and legends of club culture including singer Deborah Harry from Blondie, fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier and the late disco singer Sylvester, who passed away from an AIDS-related illness in 1988.

Active participants in New York City's ball and house culture, safer sex campaigns, and advocacy for youth, Luna Luis Ortiz and Milton Garcia Latex have individually produced works that document the many fierce people and family members around them who challenge the boundaries of masculinity and femininity. For Garcia Latex -- who has been involved with the Gay Men's Health Crisis's House of Latex Project -- his ink drawing Untitled (1996) embodies the elegant and proud attitude of the House of Pendavis. In his black-and-white photographs from 1992, Ortiz -- who is currently a member of the House of Blahnik -- presents the fashionable queer youth who partook and/or organized parties and events at the Neutral Zone on Christopher Street.

In his color photograph After Hours in South Beach, Florida IV (1995), Jorge Veras sets up the extraordinarily campy contrast between the done-up flamboyance and dress of two drag queens hanging out after a night of clubbing and the half-naked, inattentive sunbathers in the background. A self-proclaimed "gender artist" fully invested in drag culture and performance, Yolanda (a.k.a. Roger Anthony Mapes), whose music style mixes funk, soul, rock, and pop, produced a music video titled The Sickness of Beauty (1998) which ironically pokes fun at obsessions with beauty and youth. Yolanda presents her work at clubs, bars, and alternative performance venues.

Other artists approach club culture with an emphasis on the actual space of or elements from the club environment. In 1991, Felix Gonzalez-Torres took the form and shape of go-go platforms, usually found in dance clubs, and placed it in a gallery context. It can also be argued that Gonzalez-Torres transformed the plinths and pedestals traditionally used to display artwork and objects in museums and galleries into go-go platforms. At different intervals, a scantily clad male go-go dancer performed a striptease on the lit platform or pedestal encouraging the public to partake in its voyeurism and overt queer content. Through a simple alteration and intervention of materials, the artist subverted both the standard use of exhibition structures and industrially reproduced minimalist sculptures, as well as collapsed the boundaries of private and public realms. The mixed-media installations Untitled (1996) and Utopia (1997) by Sarawut Chutiwongpeti with their use of color and light to alter space are akin to dance club environments and their varied use of advances in science and technology. After being drawn to the work's chaotic visual elements, viewers then confront more concrete elements of human existence in sculpture, video, and sound from text of geographical locations to remnants of warfare.

Collectively, the works in this selection are a beginning point to larger discourses on the intersections of visual art and club culture -- realms that are affected by social, political, economic, and cultural changes. The pulsating beats and rhythms of the artworks represented here reflect the evolving and dynamic nature of club culture.

Ten years after the Stonewall Rebellion, the backlash against the popularity of disco was violently expressed on July 12, 1979 with the "Disco Demolition Night" at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. Between the doubleheader Chicago versus Detroit baseball games on that day, the predominately white male fans brought in thousands of vinyl disco records at the request of a local deejay to be destroyed in a bonfire. Riots ensued and the Chicago White Sox had to forfeit both games. This event has been described as a bigoted response against gays and people of color who have long been associated with disco culture since its inception. As Nile Rodgers of Chic said, "It felt like book burning in Nazi Germany to me. To think that people would show up to a baseball stadium en masse and break records. It was a movement that they were trying to break." This anti-disco event was an assault on burgeoning club culture and a threat to the idealism brought forth by liberation movements.

Born from subcultures and identity politics, disco had its revenge in many ways. It paved the way for ongoing experimentation by deejays, musicians, and cultural producers. The critical and commercial popularity of hip hop, house, techno, electro, and other descendants of disco has secured club culture's endurance. Nightclubs, underground and popular, thrive and there has been a recent rash of clubs internationally to install the latest sound systems by Phazon. Further, on any given weekend in urban centers (and small towns, too) globally, colorful party flyers are distributed to attract people to dance clubs that still get packed to the rim. Documentary films like "Wild Style" (1982), "Battle Sounds" (1994/1997), "Maestro" (2000) along with films like "54" (1998), "The Last Days of Disco" (1998), and "Groove" (1999) have introduced club culture in its diversity to wider audiences. In addition, the late Keith Haring probably made the strongest blow against anti-disco sentiments. His signature style born from the street, movements, environments, and people of club culture are available for mass consumption online and through his Pop Shops in New York City and Tokyo.

Disco rules.

Special thanks to: Jake Sims, Lynn Pono, Ron Smith, and David Lida.


Brewster, Bill and Broughton, Frank. Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey. New York: Grove Press, 1999.

Fikentscher, Kai. 'You Better Work!': Music, Dance, and Marginality in Underground Dance Clubs of New York City. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.

Gruen, John. Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography. New York: Fireside, 1992.

Rollins, Tim. "Interview with Felix Gonzalez-Torres." Felix Gonzalez-Torres. New York: Art Resources Transfer, Inc., 1993.

Sussman, Elizabeth. Keith Haring. New York: Bulfinch, 1997.

Thompson, Seth. "Reflections on Utopia: Sarawut Chutiwongpeti's Work in Perspective." Art + Text. From www.rhizome.org.

Thornton, Sarah. Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1996.

Weinberg, Jonathan. "Remembrance of Things Past: Marc Lida's Proust Watercolors." Loss within Loss: Artists in the Age of AIDS. Edited by Edmund White. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2001.