Oh, to be a fly on the wall of New York's nightclubs in the 1980s – when celebrities really were famous – and creativity oozed from every crevice, nook, and cranny of the "city that never sleeps".
Luckily, Peter Harrington, the rare bookshop, and gallery based in Mayfair, London, has released details of its forthcoming exhibition, History is a Nightclub: Downtown AREA, NYC, 1983-87, a spectacular array of 35-40 candid moments from the 80s featuring the greats of modern art at their most relaxed, alongside a host of celebrity friends including Sting, Tom Waits, The Beastie Boys, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Grace Jones and John Waters – saving you from a Jeff Goldblum, fly transformation moment.
Ben Buchanan captured these glimpses of NYC’s downtown scene while working as an in-house photographer for AREA, a nightclub renowned for its constant and imaginative redecorations – Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and David Hockney are seen attending an art-themed party, while Grace Jones poses with a lion for her birthday during the club’s Natural History reinvention.
Basquiat, who returned to the headlines this year when his work Untitled sold for $110m at Sotheby’s in Manhattan, can be seen DJing during a party night and relaxing on a bed, while Haring poses with a man he has used as a living canvas for his art.
“They were always creating something, even when they were relaxing,” says Buchanan, who worked at AREA from 1983 to 1987.
“At a meal for the assembled artists there was a sketchbook being passed around – Jean-Michel drew a portrait of (Playboy contributing illustrator) Leroy Neiman – Andy tipped out a bowl of snow peas onto his page, crushed them in, and signed it.”
“I had turned up at AREA looking for a job,” says Buchanan, “and they gave me a camera I had no idea how to use and they told me to point it at anything interesting.”
“It was the club that everyone wanted to get into – even the invitations to each theme were inventive and covetable, while the decorations were often brought in from movie sets.”
History is a Nightclub, Downtown AREA, NYC, 1983-87 opens at Peter Harrington, Dover Street, from 2 - 31 October 2017.