Redoubtable dealer Loretta Howard is opening her new gallery in Chelsea next week with a show clumsily subtitled "Hetero-Holics and Some Women Too," about the artists who hung out at the long-gone club Max’s Kansas City, which is also the subject of a book and exhibition at Stephen Kasher Gallery, an article in last Sunday’s New York Times and a film by ex-dealer Bill Maynes (playing at Howard).
This is a bad trend, exalting some bar scene from long ago, and, inevitably, comparing it to Ab-Ex ‘50s drunkhole the Cedar Tavern. Since, Max’s closed in 1974, by the measure of scene to celebratory shows, we can look forward in 2020 to gallery exhibitions about Area, the Mudd Club, the Pyramid Club and Club 57, at which point Ann Magnuson will be on a walker and Haoui Montaug will have been restored to life via DNA manipulation.
Max’s was basically a dump where ugly white male artists with very bad haircuts tried to pretend they were the rock stars, like Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, who occasionally stumbled into the alcohole at the urging of rock publicist Danny Fields. Snaps of said artists by Warhol fixer Brigid Berlin, in the "Heteroholics" catalogue, demonstrate that the Elephant Man had nothing on these losers: Vito Acconci, with hair shaped like a Swiffer mop, channels middle Stooge Larry Fine; Joseph Kosuth, with a Justin Bieber shag, grins like a moron; Frosty Myers, with a Russian hat and a Harry Reems moustache, pretends to be one of the Eagles.
I have never thought of the now-elegant elderly artist John Chamberlain as being particularly ugly, but he was at Max’s, with the Shecky Greene look of rubber nose, open-necked shirt, plus horror-movie hair. Then there’s Dan Christensen, a dead ringer for Jim Belushi, and Don Judd, sporting the beady eyes and close-cropped beard of a serial killer. No wonder the stewardesses and supermodels of that era all lived up in the 60s on Second Avenue. One date with these mugs and their faces would freeze!
Yet, at least that era had a spot to memorialize. Our current art world scenesters can only look at their iPhones and imagine the microscopic device that will reproduce their tiny images in the retro show of 2040 looking back at 2010. The only gallery then will be in your head, but for the drunken ugly artists of Max’s Kansas City in 1970, I guess the gallery was mostly in their heads, as well.
"Artists at Max’s Kansas City, 1965-1974: Hetero-Holics and Some Women Too," Sept. 10-Oct. 30, 2010, at Loretta Howard Gallery, 525 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).