BY Andrew Durbin in Opinion | 17 JUL 20

How to Support New York Nightlife and Artists

2020Solidarity/Between Bridges is selling artist-made posters to raise funds for the city’s beleaguered clubs, performers and organizers

BY Andrew Durbin in Opinion | 17 JUL 20

I didn’t go to art school and, as a poetry and classics student, I only took one art history course, which covered the early renaissance period and ended – to my recollection – with Girolamo Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities in Florence in 1497. Yet, I always considered myself to be part of an ‘art world’, broadly speaking, not because of my intellectual pedigree in painting, sculpture, photography or performance, nor because I knew who David Zwirner was and who Reena Spaulings wasn’t, but because I went out clubbing. 

Marlene Dumas, James Baldwin from the series ‘Great Men’, 2014. Courtesy: Support Nightlife NYC/ 2020 Solidarity 

New York’s nightclubs – many of them recently lost, many of them on the verge of being lost – provided my sweat-drenched education in art, introducing me to the artists and performers who led me to the galleries of Brooklyn, Chelsea, the Lower East Side and Queens by the sheer force of their personalities. What did all these people do – and make – when they weren’t dancing at 2am? When they weren’t dressing up or dressing down? When they weren’t screaming in my ear over the sound of a DJ? I met some of my closest friends and many of the artists I most admire – No Bra, DeSe Escobar, Juliana Huxtable, Raúl de Nieves, Jacolby Satterwhite, Wolfgang Tillmans and Stewart Uoo – in nightclubs, and each of them taught me something different, something essential, about what it means to be an artist. Over the years, I’ve watched them dance and listened to them gossip into the early hours about the art they have made and that has moved them. Every night was a love letter to the city, and to the artists who made it such an exceptional place to live. Going out with them was the most indelible experience of my life so far. 

Thao Nguyen Phan, March on a Honda Dream, 2020. Courtesy: Support Nightlife NYC/ 2020 Solidarity 

Now, New York’s nightlife is in grave danger. A new Bonfire of the Vanities is consuming the city, kindled by the economic carnage of COVID-19 and the failures of the state and federal governments to protect nightlife. Many of the nightclubs that have not already closed – and the artists and musicians who run them – are struggling financially, as the virus’s brutal and unending first wave in the US – and the gloomy prospect of a second one – makes reopening currently unthinkable. 

Thankfully, you can help support and save New York’s nightlife – its creative lifeblood – by owning a work of art. Organized by 2020Solidarity/Between Bridges, Support Nightlife NYC is selling prints of original artists’ works as posters to raise funds for the city’s beleaguered clubs, performers and organizers until 10 August. Many outstanding artists are participating in the fundraiser, including Nicole Eisenman, Nan Goldin, Glenn Ligon, Henrik Olesen, Thao Nguyen Phan, Jacolby Satterwhite, Stewart Uoo, Carrie Mae Weems and Ming Wong. Each poster costs US$50 / GB£40 / €45 and all proceeds go directly to Club Glam, Gay Vinyl, GHETTOGOTHIC, NYC INFERNO, Papi Juice BK, Qween Beat, RAGGA NYC and The Spectrum.   

Nan Goldin, Joey in front of the Ambassador Theater, Times Square, NYC 1997, 1997. Courtesy: Support Nightlife NYC/ 2020 Solidarity 

I ordered Marlene Dumas’s poster – her 2014 portrait of the writer James Baldwin. ‘Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within,’ she writes under her watercolour, a quote from Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963). In the original text, he continues: ‘I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring growth.’ Nightlife, the best of it, embodies such an idea of quest, and many of us have benefited from those who made such journeys possible. Do what you can to save them and make possible the nights to come. 

Main image: Glenn Ligon, With Hope (detail), 2017. Courtesy: Support Nightlife NYC/ 2020 Soildarity 

Andrew Durbin is the editor-in-chief of frieze. His book The Wonderful World That Almost Was is forthcoming from FSG in 2025.