Studio 54: Night Magic

The Studio 54 night club was only open for a period of less than 3 years, but the cultural impact has lasted decades. At the ongoing exhibition put on by the Brooklyn Museum, visitors will understand why.

Through video footage, photographs (polaroids and professional prints), clothing, jewelry, art, diary excerpts and, of course, music, the era and feeling of Studio 54 is fully brought to life. Anyone who walks through the gallery spaces at the Brooklyn Museum will become familiar not only with the feeling of Studio 54, but also with the kinds of people it attracted and why it was such a popular destination (some nights drawing more than 4,000 guests alone).

What is great about this exhibit is that it not only roots the subject matter in time through historical grounding and background, but it also exposes the unseen aspects of it. We are not only shown the artist Antonia Lopez’s costume design sketches and their realized forms, but also his personal diaries — both written and visual. We’re shown the different logos that were considered, stage plans for performances, and guest lists for events like Truman Capote’s Academy Awards afterparty. Many of these elements might already be familiar to some. You might be able to picture Andy Warhol’s silkscreen print of the Studio 54 drink tickets or have seen the photograph of Bianca Jagger atop a horse, but it is the holistic presentation of the place that gives us a true understanding of why it is a cultural symbol that endures today.

What you come to understand is that this place is iconic because it was much more than a nightclub. It was a years-long theatrical performance complete with stagecraft, costumes and production.

In the end, it was a series of photographs by Swedish photographer Hasse Persson that embodied, for me, the magic of Studio 54. The photographs, taken on Halloween night in 1977, seem to capture the exact mood associated with the club: the costumes are outrageous, the dancing fevered, the decadence outright. But it is the way Persson chose to photograph, with an open shutter that suggests the movement of his subjects, that struck me. There is a ghostly quality to the shots, but also the implication of time passing. Many of the people captured in these images might be ghosts now, time may have moved on, but the legacy of Studio 54 will endure.

Studio 54 logo by Gil Lesser
Antonio Lopez’s Costume Designs for Alvin Ailey’s Opening Night Performance at Studio 54

A costume for Richard Gallo
Black and White Photographs by Hasse Persson