MERYL MEISLER: Nightlife NYC, 1977 – 2023

May 19, 2023
September 2, 2023

Zillman Art Museum

41 Harlow St., Bangor, Maine 04401

In 1975 Meryl Meisler moved to New York City. Two years later its most notorious and celebrated nightclub, Studio

54, opened its doors. Meisler immersed herself in the nightlife scene and began to make images of Studio 54’s

colorful pleasure-seekers, along with some of its most noted party-goers such as Andy Warhol. The photographer

states, “When Studio 54 opened, my friend JudiJupiter got us on the guest list as photographers. The doorman

took a liking and parted the door for us night after night. Studio 54’s fabulous changing décor, DJs, sound system,

and incredible crowds of diverse ages, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and gender identities were thrilling.”

Fueled by the excitement of Manhattan’s exploding club scene of the late 70s, Meisler photographed fashionable

night revelers and celebrities at a number of other hedonistic havens that popped up throughout the City.

Legendary clubs such as Copacabana, Paradise Garage, Hurrah, Xenon, GG’s Barnum Room, CBGB, and

erotic Go-Go bars, provided an endless and diverse array of extravagant subjects immersed in dance and party

spectacles. Each venue had its own unique identity, clientele, and energy. Some club-goers who were unable to

gain admission to Studio 54 or wanted a change of scenery explored the crowd, vibe, and music at other night

spots. Meisler adds, “On nights off, club owners and cohorts would party at other discos.” It was on one of these

evenings that Meisler photographed Halston and Studio 54 co-owner Steve Rubell comfortably huddled together

on a couch at the club Hurrah.

A monogamous relationship, full-time art teaching job, and the onset of the AIDS epidemic prompted the

photographer’s foray into nightlife culture to dramatically slow down around 1981. Meisler kept her collection

of images to herself, as a sort of private visual memoir, until an encounter in 2014 at the drag & burlesque bar

BIZARRE, in Bushwick. Many of the club’s performers and the scene they created were reminiscent of the freedom

and energy that abounded during New York City’s nightlife heyday in the late 70s. This emerging scene with

its emphasis on inclusion, costumed spectacles, and over-the-top revelry inspired Meisler to exhibit her earlier

nightlife photos and, once again, document these venues of unbridled celebration.

Dance and performance take center stage in many of Meisler’s current images taken at clubs like Bushwick’s

House of Yes and Bartschland’s roaming parties. These new club scenes with drag queens and kings, bodacious

burlesque performers, acrobats, magicians, dancers, and disco divas add to the continuum of NYC’s nightlife

culture — honoring and elevating the dynamic spirit set forth by prior generations of party-goers.