Madonna, Run-DMC, Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, the Talking Heads and more collide in a new exhibition that pays homage to the artistic interplay of New York City’s music and nightlife scene in the early 1980s. Cast through an eclectic vision of no wave, rock, salsa, hip-hop, jazz, pop and experimental music, the exhibition spans the first six years of the decade to survey the time period’s enduring influence on what we hear today.
Dubbed “New York, New Music: 1980-1986,” the exhibition is currently on view at the Museum of the City of New York, where it will be on display through the spring of 2022. The installation was timed to arrive two months before the 40th anniversary of MTV, which launched on Aug. 1, 1981, with the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.”
“During the 80s, there was a community-driven musical renaissance in New York City,” Sean Corcoran, curator of prints and photography at the Museum of the City of New York, said in a statement. “It was an era of creativity and genre-defying performance that, in my mind, stands as one of the most influential in musical and cultural history.”
To tell this story, the exhibition turns around 14 distinct “moments” that capture an influential performance (such as, Madonna’s 1982 debut at the famed downtown spot Danceteria, Run-DMC on the hip-hop show “Graffiti Rock” and Funky 4 + 1 on Saturday Night Live in 1981) or landmark gatherings of artists, like Keith Haring’s birthday celebration, “Party of Life,” or Brooklyn Academy of Music’s wide-ranging second edition of the Next Wave festival. Taking the form of archival video footage and interviews, photography, artifacts and more, over 350 objects fill the exhibition.
As guests wind through the gallery, they’ll find show flyers for Sonic Youth, records from Liquid Liquid and Madonna, a Zoot Suit and hat from Kid Creole and an MTV Music Awards statue, in addition to other ephemera. Videos and concert footage capture Grandmaster Flash, Cyndi Lauper, Fort Apache Band, Lounge Lizards and more. Photographs from Janette Beckman, Martha Cooper, Joe Conzo, William Coupon, Bob Gruen, Laura Levine, Ebet Roberts and Chris Stein, among others, depict the scene through a collection of portraits and images.
Providing an immersive element, a lounge room developed in collaboration with video artists Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong, who created the Video Lounge at Danceteria, presents a nostalgic nod to the era, complete with a couch planted in front of a wood-encased TV console playing videos from the period.
The exhibition also features several live events, including an in-person screening of “Krush Groove” — featuring Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Sheila E., the Beastie Boys and others — and a virtual conversation with Suzanne Vega as part of the “Your Hometown” virtual series.
More information about the exhibition and how to reserve timed tickets can be found on the Museum of the City of New York website.
Top Image: Charlie Ahearn, Debbie Harry, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fab 5 Freddy with others on the set for the music video for "Rapture." 1981. Courtesy of the photographer.