The best openings in the late 1980s were at Robert Miller’s gallery in the Fuller Building. Louise Bourgeois would hold forth on the tiny balcony overlooking 57th Street (some even thought she smoked there!). It was a Bohemian scene in the front rooms, with a copious wine bar and coat check set up just outside the elevator bank.
Guests snuck mysteriously into a whole warren of private rooms in the back and rifled catalogues and other art books in the racks in the front gallery space. Robert Mapplethorpe’s "Flowers" opening in 1988 was especially poignant, with the artist, purple welts growing from his neck like fungi, bravely greeting emotionally moved guests on a receiving line. All the gorgeous riffraff were there, and at every opening, smoking joints in the john and drinking a river of bottled wine that never ran out.
Miller’s son, the droll boulevardier Robert Peter Miller, always had a couple of babes on his arms, and East Village types like Ed Brezinski and Liz-n-Val would pass out invites to their latest downtown shows. Miller’s wife Betsy, who came from the East End crowd, which her brother Dirk Wittenborn chronicled in a celebrated film a few seasons back, ran the back room with an iron hand, and she needed that hand to keep the Miller brand afloat to this day, as disease and some of the most notorious backstabbing ever inflicted by gallery staff ensued (I’ll leave the details to their alleged consciences).
God, those were good times, long gone before the elegant Mr. Miller expired last week. The rest of us have the memories and the taste of vino in our mouths.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).