Few clubs are as widely admired as Studio 54. In the three short years that it was open, the midtown Manhattan venue carved a lasting reputation as the ultimate destination for hedonism, outrageousness and unashamed excess. It was a place where eccentricity was welcomed with open arms, as were the historically marginalised groups of New York.
The history of the legendary venue is being celebrated in Studio 54: Night Magic, a new exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in the venue’s neighbouring borough. Curated by Matthew Yokobosky, the museum’s senior curator of fashion and material culture, the show unites a wealth of materials capturing the club’s glamorous, liberated – and liberating – spirit.
The club rode the back of the city’s tensions regarding civil rights, gender and LGBT+ rights movements, as well as the Vietnam War, and through its lavish parties represented a progressive new chapter in New York history. The photographic work featured in the exhibition plays a key role in revealing the diversity of figures that graced Studio 54, where partygoers from various sexual and socio-political backgrounds stood shoulder to shoulder with the who’s who of the late 70s.
Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Cher, Yves Saint Laurent, Elizabeth Taylor, and of course the Jaggers are among those who formed part of its eclectic crowd of pleasure-seekers. Included in the show is, of course, the photograph of Bianca Jagger atop a white horse on her birthday – perhaps the most seminal image to emerge from the club’s history.
The exhibition will also give more insight into the New York venues that lay the foundations for Studio 54 – such as the Peppermint Lounge and the Tropicana – as well as the creative planning behind the space by way of blueprints, models and sketches.
An opera house in a past life, it was transformed by its wildly dramatic sets and became revered for its radical decor at the hands of an array of influential architects, artists and set and lighting designers, including the memorable Moon and Spoon sculpture by Aerographics that hung in the club.
“Studio 54 has come to represent the visual height of disco-era America: glamorous people in glamorous fashions, surrounded by gleaming lights and glitter, dancing the Hustle in an opera house,” says Yokobosky. “At a time of economic crisis, Studio 54 helped New York City to rebrand its image, and set the new gold standard for a dynamic night out. Today the nightclub continues to be a model for social revolution, gender fluidity, and sexual freedom.”
“At this current moment in history, when struggles for liberation often collide with restrictive social norms, we are excited to present Studio 54: Night Magic,” added Anne Pasternak, the Brooklyn Museum’s Shelby White and Leon Levy Director. “The exhibition encourages visitors to reflect on a significant era in our shared history and challenges us to consider the future and the many ways we can create a freer and more just world.”
Studio 54: Night Magic will be on display at Brooklyn Museum from March 13–July 5; brooklynmuseum.org