Emily Colucci

Making Up For Lost Time (Exhibitions Filthy Dreams Missed In 2016): Jimmy Wright’s ‘New York Underground’

December 28, 2016 By Emily Colucci

It might surprise you, dearest Filthy Dreams readers, but Filthy Dreams can’t cover every show I’d like to. Writing one post a week, plus an occasional guest writer post here and there, it’s not inconceivable that Filthy Dreams would miss some spectacular shows that deserved to be delved into in depth. Sometimes I see a show too late and other times, there’s just too many darned exhibitions to deal with for one Sunday article a week.

This is why the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant is so important. Beyond the mere subversive hilarity of Filthy Dreams being given legitimacy and money–two things I never imagined in my wildest dreams, we’ll now have the monetary freedom to post more frequently.

But, since that check hasn’t yet cleared and Filthy Dreams is still poverty-stricken, some shows have had to fall by the wayside in 2016. But even though they are gone, closed and shuttered, they are not forgotten. We can still appreciate what issues they brought to the fore.

So this year rather than a hackneyed best of or top 10 list, I’m going to right my wrongs and highlight some exhibitions that we missed (this doesn’t include shows I’ve covered for other publications).Hopefully, this will be enough to absolve my critical sins before the beginning of 2017. To keep things readable, I’ve split this series into individual reviews, starting with Jimmy Wright’s New York Underground at Fierman.

Inspired by his time spent at New York’s notorious sex clubs, Visage’s Steve Strange composed a song in its honor appropriately titled “The Anvil.” Despite the seeming disparity between the heavily made-up, decadent aesthetic of the New Romantics and the highly hypermasculine world of clubs like The Anvil or The Mineshaft, Visage’s song, between cringe-inducing references to “nightclub school” and a campy tinking anvil sound, describes the swirling, pumping, heart-pounding, throbbing energy of these clubs. Strange croons, “Watch the moving bodies/As they react to the sound/Feasting on the visions/See the figures going round.”

Like Strange, these clubs were influential sites for many gay men in the 1970s and 1980s as spaces of sexual, relational, communal and even, aesthetic possibilities. This same impulse to document the unique scene within these radical clubs was seen in Jimmy Wright’s surprisingly delicate drawings in his solo exhibition New York Underground at Fierman.

In the small Chinatown storefront gallery, Wright’s drawings wove sordid tales of nights at bathhouses, sex clubs and famous Downtown art hangouts. Wright takes viewers on a Crisco-drenched trip through the Anvil, dancing at Club 82 and people watching at Max’s Kansas City.

The press release details Wright’s move to New York in the 1970s, explaining that he discovered NYC’s burgeoning nightlife scene soon after. Given the decade, these drawings depict a queer nightlife before the onslaught of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and therefore, these drawings, in retrospect, capture a seemingly utopian atmosphere that pervaded these clubs.

Of course, as you know, dearest Filthy Dreams readers, we’re quite enamored with nightlife and its importance as a space of community, radical eroticism and unexpected activism. And Wright’s drawings unquestionably portray this particular significance of these spaces.

In particular, his drawings of bathhouses reveal an intimacy and care between men. Take, for example, Lighting A Joint: Club Baths, which depicts two men on lounge chairs lighting a joint. There’s a visible tenderness in their interactions that speaks to the, even, momentary partnerships that occurred within bathhouses. It’s even sweet.