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Nightlife: An Oral History of NYC Club Culture

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by Joann Jovinelly (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Long before the Palladium became an NYU dorm and the legendary Limelight Nightclub resurrected itself as a high-end mall, there were places like Red Zone, Area, and Tunnel, where charismatic Club Kids
©John Valentino / Museum of Arts & Design
went to show off their impossible attire, over-the-top sexually charged antics, and ability to self-promote long before we were limited to 140 characters or less.

Late-1980s New York was smug, especially in light of the AIDS crisis. The Club Kids were dominated by trendy gay or trans-gendered youth hoping to parley making the scene into making money, or at least obtaining notoriety (or drugs). Club Kids, notably nightclub promoter Michael Alig
Alig (center) and The Fabulous Twins @ Limelight
(pictured, left, was found guilty of murdering and dismembering the corpse of drug dealer Andre "Angel" Melendez in 1997 and is currently serving a 20-year sentence), often held Outlaw Parties to promote his friends, sometimes in subway stations, abandoned buildings, and once along the old High Line tracks in Chelsea. In 2003, Alig's story was depicted in the film Party Monster.

Alig and the community he helped foster will be among the topics discussed in the lecture, Nightlife: An Oral History of NYC Club Culture this month at the Museum of Arts & Design. The institution has sponsored the lectures as part of the program Vibrant Space in an effort to better understand "environments and spaces—whether they're physical-, psychological-, or community-based—that really inform and shape culture."

Contemporary nightlife luminaries Joey Arias, Ladyfag, and Village Voice columnist Michael Musto, who once called Alig "a cute little dolly that ends up biting your head off" will lead the talk, swapping war stories about the 1980s and 1990s nightclub scene. Alig joins the discussion via video chat from prison, weighing in on community building in an age before the Internet.
© Wolfgang Wosener, Courtesy of Leica Gallery

For a more visual examination of that same period in New York's history, visit the simultaneous photography exhibit at the Leica Gallery by Wolfgang Wosener ("Wowe") who documented the 1980s nightclub scene. Wosener captured images of Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat (pictured), Keith Haring, Madonna, William S. Burroughs, and more than a few Club Kids, including Alig, in gorgeous black and white, though they are no less colorful.
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Why? To experience an older, grittier New York.
When: March 17, 2011, 7PM & Now until April 16
Where: Museum of Arts & Design, 2 Columbus Circle and The Leica Gallery, 670 B'way, Suite 500
Cost: $8 Museum Admission (Leica Gallery admission is free)
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