Richard Bernstein. Margaret Trudeau, 1978. Airbrush, gouache, pencil, and collage on board, (40.6 x 25.4 cm). Courtesy of the artist's estate. © The Estate of Richard Bernstein.
It was a time and place. And it was revolutionary.
More than just a nightclub, Studio 54 was a space for expression. Music, dance, fashion, celebrity, uptown and downtown – they all collided in a former vaudeville theatre, in a once-seedy area of midtown Manhattan. The brainchild of two Brooklyn-born entrepreneurs, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, it was a nightclub on a theatrical scale, featuring dramatic, ever-changing backdrops, a state-of-the-art sound system, and a 5,400 sq. foot dance floor. And on December 26 at the AGO, Studio 54: Night Magic invites visitors to step past the velvet rope and to experience the art, design and fashion that made it legendary.
When Studio 54 opened on April 26, 1977, New York was edgy, bankrupt and unburnished, making headlines for blackouts and riots. Studio 54, Rubell and Schrager knew, could be a glittering spectacle and a powerful antidote. On opening night, dancers from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre took to the stage indoors, while crowds outside begged to be admitted. Inside, celebrities, fashion designers, artists, musicians, New Yorkers gay and straight, Black, White and Latino, all rubbed shoulders together. Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, Cher, Michael Jackson, Margaret Trudeau and Truman Capote were all regulars, and the media couldn’t get enough. During this post-Watergate, pre-AIDS era, glamour danced to a disco beat, and for the 33 months it lasted, Studio 54 was the watchword for creative expression and no-holds-barred excitement.
Curated and designed by Matthew Yokobosky, Senior Curator of Fashion and Material Culture, Brooklyn Museum, Studio 54: Night Magic is a step back in time. Presented chronologically, through photography, music, fashion, drawings and film, as well as costume illustrations, set proposals and designs, the exhibition foregrounds the glitzy excess of the Disco era within the context of New York City, and considers its enduring legacy.
Blueprints, sketches and architectural models trace the hurried transformation of what was an abandoned CBS TV studio, introducing visitors to designers and artists including Richard Bernstein, fashion designer and illustrator Antonio Lopez, set-designer Richie Williamson, Tony Award-winning lighting designers Jules Fisher and Paul Marantz and Academy Award-winning set designer Tony Walton.
Paul Mathiesen, Installation Technician (and lighting wizard) at the AGO, knows firsthand how exciting it all was. Hired just six weeks before Studio 54 opened, he was one of the many artists who worked around the clock, behind the scenes to make the magic happen.
“I was 26 when I started at Studio 54. I got the job because of my background working in theatre, and was hired as the fly man, moving scenery in and out high above the stage. They knew they needed people experienced in theatricals to bring their vision to life every night, and I worked with electricians and riggers and lighting designers to make it all happen, on very short time lines. It was about seeing and being seen, and that meant every night we created something new. An elephant for Liz Taylors’ birthday party? Two inches of glitter for New Years Eve? We did it all. And it was wild.”
Stay tuned for more details in the months ahead, and in the meantime, dust off those platform shoes.
Studio 54: Night Magic is organized by the Brooklyn Museum and is curated by Matthew Yokobosky, Senior Curator of Fashion and Material Culture, Brooklyn Museum.