The Tin Whistle

counterculture history and conspiracy theory

Art After Midnight reviews

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“…drugs, sex and chicanery… with verve, charm and sophistication…”

East Village Eye, August 1986: This is the first full-scale treatment of the overlapping club, art and performance scenes which have wrought tremendous changes in New York’s art world. Since it began in the late ’70s, a generation of artists sidestepped the frozen, hierarchical world of Soho galleries and began doing their work in nightclubs. Art After Midnight tells their story with verve, charm and sophistication. The book is not art history, not esthetics. It is a social history, a chronicle of artists’ lives, and of the broader milieu through which they moved. As one who hung out through most of this, I can testify that Steven Hager got it right. Not much is left out, and what I didn’t witness sounds like I pictured it. Art After Midnight reads like an expose—drugs, sex, artworld maneuvering and chicanery. Hager rips aside the sanctimonious veil that covers most writing on art to show us the real movers of the new scene as real people. (I know I’ll never read in Artforum how Zurich art dealer Bruno Bischofberger “rolls into” a Fun Gallery opening with “a babe on each arm.”…the Dionysus of the fun art Blitzkrieg was Kenny Scharf, insisting on his right to remain in the nursery, with its intoxicating funny-faces and delirious horrors….ten years from now, how will we feel about the lions of today?…Hager’s book provides a vibrant panorama of the beachhead.—Alan Moore

“…riotously illustrated…lively narration…”

Booklist September, 1986: Having already given its South Bronx sibling the once-over in Hip Hop, Hager turns to the East Village art scene that flourished simultaneously (c. 1975-85). His riotously illustrated chronicle tells how, inspired by such 1960s avant-gardists as Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground rock band and by the gross satirical filmmaker, John Waters, the young artists created successive waves of neo-dada, first in punk music, then in performance art, before the burgeoning of new galleries in the East Village brought most of them back to painting,  where they had generally all begun. The scene finally fell apart when, like avant-gardists before them, the best talents in the movement became famous and started to sell to high-dollar collectors. In the meantime, an immense amount of fun was had, fun that Hager conveys through a lively narration sparked by commentary of most of the scene’s principle artists, performers, and musicians.—RO

“…as artless as the scene itself…”

ELLE, June 1986: Long on hindsight, short on insight, Steven Hager’s book on the rise of the East Village art scene comes off as artless as the scene itself. Yes, you may learn how the Mudd Club got its name (I’ve already forgotten) and what CBGB & OMFUG stands for (who cares?), that Keith Haring went to Grateful Dead concerts because “he wanted to be a hippie,” or that David Byrne was described as “a cross between Ralph Nader, Lou Reed and Tony Perkins” in an early press release, and you’ll hear all about Kenny Scharf’s Jetsons fixation, but you won’t get much meaningful evaluation of the often questionable art to emerge from one of the more fringe movements of this century. —Peter Occhiogrosso

“…a Big Chill for the punk generation…”

The City Paper, July 4, 1986: Take the in-crowd focus of Interview, add gushy innocence of a teen music fanzine and a dash of the I-know-what’s-important pose of Artforum, and you’ll approximate the tone of Art After Midnight, a coffee-table postmortem on the East Village punk scene, RIP (roughly) 1977-1982. The scene itself comes across as fun, ingeneous, wild and wacky, with that mix of profundity and utter frivolity we associate with the hijinks of any art student crowd anywhere anytime. Hager’s I-was-there slant, meanwhile, is a kind of heavy nostalgia editorializing that makes the book a Big Chill for the punk generation. Every generation is nostalgic for and overly apologetic about its wild and wacky youth. The East Village scene was clearly a lot of fun for Hager, and he does a good job of making it sound like fun in this book.—John Strausbaugh

“…art that the serious have to take seriously…”

Boston Phoenix October 8, 1986: They were young—the first generation weaned on Let’s Make a Deal—and they had no standards whatsoever. They were American: they ruled the world. And they just wanted to have fun. They succeeded, some, like Haring, Basquiat and Byrne, beyond their wildest imaginations, and in the process they made some art that the serious have to take seriously. This book may not diagnose the disease very well, but it sure as hell is a fun display of the symptoms. —David Bonetti

‘”…detailed descriptions of clothing and hairstyles…”

City Arts  January 18, 1987: Aptly, author Steven Hager chose the style of a gossip columnist to relate the history of this neighborhood, which has seen the birth of punk rock music, performance art, and the newest school of visual art, Neo Expressionism. Hager talks about the lives, relationships and social gatherings of East Village art and music celebrities, including fairly detailed descriptions of their clothing and hairstyles. For those who believe in the purity of artists and their rejection of crass commercialism, this book will be an eye-opener. Hager’s description of the new art superstars, most of whom achieved substantial commercial success while still in their 20s, illustrates the overwelming influence of television, blockbuster Hollywood films and popular music on these artists. —Patty Somlo

“…outrageous energy….”

Publishers’ Weekly May 30, 1986 The outrageous energy of the participants and their subsequent notoreity will carry the reader through this uncritical, discursive pop history of what [St. Martins’] calls the “Global East Village.” He begins with CBGB’s and its development as the premier club for punk rock and the nihilistic youth culture of its audience. The author then covers various groupings that were make to make Manhattan’s East Village and neoexpressionism buzzwords of the ’80s. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring receive extensive coverage, as well as performance artists like Ann Magnuson and “personalities” such as Patti Astor. The book culminates with the explosion of galleries in the East Village and its impact on the New York art market-place. Hager’s treatment is unremarkable but, as always, the East Village provides its own momentum.

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