Collection of Invitations, Programs, Flyers, Posters, Broadsides and other Ephemeral Items pertaining to the Palladium nightclub, June 1985 – May 1987. ca. 170 items ranging from single sheet to folding invitations, pop ups, and physical objects, executed in print processes including letterpress, stencil, silk screen, and off-set lithography, most in vibrant color. Items ranging in size from approx. 3 7/8″ x 3 7/8″ to 23″ x 28″, loose as originally issued. N.p. (New York) 1985-1987. (47729)
Steve Rubell is said to have declared, “Artists are the rock stars of the 80s.” The notorious nightclub owner and his business partner Ian Schrager ran Studio 54 before their arrest and incarceration for tax evasion in 1980. In May 1985 they opened the Palladium nightclub, designed as a celebration of this unprecedented alliance between art and pop culture.
Preserving the historic and rundown facade of the East Village theater, Rubell and Schrager hired trendy architect Arata Isozaki (working concurrently on the original LA MoCA building) to gut and redesign the 100,000 sq ft interior and commissioned site-specific works and installations by Jean-Michel Basquiat (large-scale murals), Francesco Clemente (ceiling frescoes), Keith Haring (motorized dance floor wall), and Kenny Scharf (basement lounge and phone booth installation).
The Palladium opening marked the evolution of the New York downtown art scene from a series of distinct subcultures to a full-blown, mainstream aesthetic with a distinctive identity. Predecessors like Area, which hosted a new themed exhibition every month, had already established the nightclub as an exhilarating nexus of art, music, fashion, performance and celebrity, but the Palladium integrated these groups as never before, adding Studio 54’s A-list cast of stars and socialites and introducing the Michael Todd Room, an upstairs lounge for VIP after-parties and events that became a focal point of New York nightlife for almost two years.
The first exhibition that opened at Palladium featured works by more than 70 artists including Milton Avery, Lynda Benglis, Christo, Jim Dine, Eric Fischl, Vincent Gallo, Nancy Graves, Philip Guston, Michael Heizer, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Robert Kushner, Alice Neel, Judy Rifka, Lucas Samaras, Saul Steinberg, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wesselmann. This motley assortment would be characteristic of the Palladium, where central figures in the artworld collaborated and socialized with more outré artists, performers and personalities.
The spare, elegant invitation [at top of post] is followed by material promoting events as diverse as the Weird Beauty photo exhibit, curated by Carol Squires and including Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe, Tina Barney, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons and James Welling, et. al; experimental theater and film productions featuring Robert Wilson and Laurie Anderson; a Grace Jones release party; the von Furstenbergs’ third anniversary; Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Halloween extravaganza; and Le Défilé, a collaboration between Jean-Paul Gaultier and the Regine Chopinot ballet company.
Other examples feature parties and benefits hosted by or in honor of Andy Warhol, Frank Zappa, Eddie Murphy, John Baldessari, Judas Priest, Vito Acconci, Komar and Melamid, Rudolf Nuryev, Fela Kuti, Allen Ginsberg and John Waters. Contradicting art historical accounts of this period as one polarized by divisive ideological and aesthetic battles, the incredible variety of events and graphic styles represented by this collection is a testament to the diversity and cross-pollination of New York’s cultural landscape in the mid-1980s.
It’s possible to see the Palladium as a peculiar kind of alternative space, providing an enriched context for artists like Haring and Jenny Holzer who sought a broad, public audience and were committed to working outside the primary market and institutional system (even while they rose to fame within it).
One of the rare objects in the collection is a poster for an exhibition of 100 women artists curated by the Guerilla Girls in October 1985. After the Palladium’s highly publicized opening, the Guerilla Girls, who had formed in protest to an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum only a few months earlier, objected to the lack of women artists involved in the commissions for the public spaces of the club. Rubell and Schrager offered them a show, one of the first they curated as “The Women Artists Terrorist Organization,” and Holzer contributed the inflammatory essay for the poster, a format used in many of their best-known campaigns. The curatorial process was a challenge to the values of the new collective and a number of members quit as a result.
At Studio 54 Rubell and Schrager had pioneered the use of large-scale mailed invitations and at the Palladium they built their mailing list to 180,000 names with 100 categories of guests. A staff of 5 managed the names and crafted the list for the most exclusive class of invitation to any Palladium event: the Michael Todd Room/backstage comp ticket. This collection is comprised almost entirely of these VIP materials, often scalped and sometimes faked to gain entrance, with associations to Frank Stella, Richard Serra, and Jerry Ordover (Leo Castelli’s lawyer).
The club’s investment in the mailings was extraordinary, costing as much as $40,000 a week in 1986, and the examples here include unusual forms and objects such as a fold-out prayer card invitation to Howie Montaug’s No Entiendes, a watershed evening of intentional amateurism, and an bloody knife invitation “environment” to a Halloween party designed by well-known theatrical and rock set designer Mark Ravitz.
This archive charts the quick rise and fall of the Palladium’s significance under Rubell & Schrager’s ownership. By mid-1987 the it-crowd had moved on and a new era of nightlife culture was coalescing around figures like Michael Alig and James St. James, where club kids, not the A-listers, were the main attraction.
By the time the Beastie Boys released Paul’s Boutique in 1989, including the lyrics “kicked out the Palladium ‘dja think that I cared?” it was all over.
For more information about the collection, or to inquire as to its availability, by all means, please do reach out and make contact. A complete list of the contents is available upon request.
H/T to Arthur Fournier for the Beastie Boys reference, thanks for setting the bar so high.
FAB Item I.D. # 47729