THE IMPERMANENT SPECTACLE: NYC’s AREA NIGHTCLUB (1983-1987)
If you want to observe decadence in 2018, you might go on Instagram and peruse the foot fetishist’s hashtag “#grail”. There, resides the meaning of ‘podiatric capitalism’, if such a thing existed: flashy, maximal, insular, ephemeral. It’s a similar recipe to that of downtown New York’s nightclub, Area—except Area targets the whole body.
Area, half party, half prodigious art rotisserie, propagated decadence between the years 1983 and 1987. Each affair was an immersive microcosm of excess, regularly luring guests like Grace Jones, David Byrne, Cher, Madonna (a recently ‘discovered’ and newfound fixture of the downtown scene), John F Kennedy Jnr. and… well, just Google it. The crowd at large was a spectacular mix of salty downtown kids, manicured uptown folk, the utterly elite and the lowly clingers-on—preening your feathers and actually entering Area were two very different things. Impatient maybe-guests would spill across the TriBeca street, packed tightly together like anthropomorphic sushi rice. “To not get in is to die,” expresses a guest in the book AREA: 1983-1987. She lived, “thanks to her ostrich-feathered turban.”
“People always measure the success of a thing by its longevity,” says Eric Goode, Area’s co-owner, “but the entire point of Area was its impermanence.”
The enormity of Area’s, ahem, area made the scope for art and installation near-boundless, with Chuck Close, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Claes Oldenburg, Ed Kienholz and pop purveyors Robert Rauschenberg and Tom Wesselmann holding indelible spots in the club’s history. Every six-ish weeks its owners—four guys from California: Eric and Christopher Goode, Darius Azari and Shawn Hausman—would exenterate the 13,000 square foot Hudson Street space spanning almost an entire block, fashioning a new space entirely. New York Magazine’s March 1985 issue describes the routine transformation as an ‘assault’. The publication chronicled one particular overhaul costing $60,000 (a paltry figure that would be in the hundreds-of-thousands today): “The flaming cross, the central artefact of December’s Faith theme, is wrenched from the swimming pool. Into the dumpster go the Mexican-church facade, the giant Buddha, the Egyptian tomb. By noon… the hundred-foot entranceway is stripped bare, and discarded icons litter the dance floor.” On this occasion, they were readying the locale for its next theme, Science Fiction, which would see the entranceway converted into an “intergalactic intestinal tract.”
Here are five of Area’s ambitious themes drawn from the namesake book.
You hungry? Forget it. Unless you find a bloodied human gagged with food and her besmirched bra stuffed with vegetables is appetising. This party also featured a regular swimming pool, except filled with Alphabet Soup. In it a nonchalant waiter stood, waiting for something.
Misery loves company, so come on everybody, let’s go to the fun, upbeat party! The confinement theme was an exercise in sadism featuring sunken-eyed actors cowering in sterile bedroom corners. “I found [a cage] at a hospital supply company. The cage was for children in state hospitals and that was a horrific thing to think about.”—Jennifer Goode, Art Director.
This party honoured filmmaker Federico Fellini and his indulgent, baroque predilections. Observe here guests eating seafood from the nude body of artist Magdalen Pierrakos. These eaters were apparently selected by the artist for their receding hairlines.
…was an elaborate film starring you and your space fam. It was also maybe excruciating. ”The worst nightmare possible was Science Fiction—deciding what should go where, what was to be done, and then the feasibility of constructing it.”—Michael Staats, Art Department.
It wasn’t only the structures inside the club that were notoriously elaborate, so too were the invitations. For Natural History, “we got about 2,000 eggs and Shawn made a drilling machine that drilled holes into them so we could blow the contents out of each one individually. Then ew put all the egg innards into maybe five or six huge garbage cans and loaded them into ur truck and drove them to the Salvation Army on Bowery. They were eating omelettes for days” — Jennifer Goode, Art Director.
Words / Melissa Kenny