I start work a week from next Monday. This is, obviously, incredibly great news and an indescribable relief. As a strange bonus, however, the outlet that’s employing me wasn’t able to immediately accommodate me, so I’ve had a couple of weeks to get my ducks in a row and enjoy some last days of unfettered free time before returning to the conventional working week (cue Elvis Costello). As such, this afternoon I took advantage of going to something that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have time for.
I went to check out the new Richard Kern show at the Marlborough Broome Street Gallery on the eastern end of Broome Street (just a few steps from the Bowery). If you’re unfamiliar with Richard Kern, I should preface this by saying that his work REALLY isn’t for everyone. Know that moving forward.
A veteran filmmaker and photographer of the transgressive cinema scene of the 80’s (a gaggle of cinematic envelope-pushers whose work coalesced with and more or less ran parallel to the similarly inclined No Wave music phenomenon), Kern produced work that's been considered to be, well, brazenly profane and upsetting (depending on your sensibility). Applicable adjectives run the gauntlet between provocative and kinky through violent and, well, disturbing. Like I said, this ain’t Annie Leibovitz we’re discussing.
Anyway, in addition to shooting pictures rife with many a pervy and/or disquieting subject, Kern also briefly played in a Lower East Side band in the `80’s called the Black Snakes alongside Jack Natz (formerly of Virus and the Undead, and later of my beloved Cop Shoot Cop). They cut a single album that’s well worth your time, if only for their sludge-laden cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine" (take THAT, Ed Sheerhan). Natz also starred in one of Kern's less delicate films, that being the notorious "cord scene" in "Submit to Me Now." If you'd like to check that out, click right here -- but maybe usher the kids out of the zip code first.
I actually met Richard Kern some years ago through the Cop Shoot Cop guys, and despite his reputation, he was a remarkably easy-going, affable gent. Just goes to show ya.
Given his connections to my friends and his giddy penchant for pushing whatever naughty, taboo button was readily available, I picked up Kern’s (first?) anthology, “New York Girls,” when it was published in the 90’s. Suffice to say, it is REALLY not something you want to have lying around on your coffee table when your in-laws are stopping by.
Here we are, then, twenty years after that book’s first edition, and the Marlborough Broome Street Gallery is featuring a Kern retrospective called “New York Girls Revisited.”
Here’s a little bit of what they have to say about this show….
This exhibition is an opportunity to reflect on cultural change in the last two decades, and the shifting sands of the sexually provocative in art and popular culture. The erotic jolt provided by images of nudity and sexual fetishism may have been blunted by the proliferation of this imagery online, but this has had the interesting effect of forcing a viewer to contend with Kern’s images in more formal, classical photographic terms. What we find, then, is his particular use of composition, lighting, color gels, poses, props and settings. Shot mostly in his East Village walk up, the images open up a psychological terrain of personal fixations (enacted in the high-wire-walk of collaboration with his models) and a meticulous, fastidious drive to create images that telegraph these very specific desires.
As classy and high-brow as that sounds, however, believe you me — don’t bring your grandmother to this show, unless you want her to cry and maybe try to hit you.
If you’re curious, though, get yourselves to 331 Broome Street.
And while many might consider Richard Kern to be a frowny, violence-aroused, potty-minded troglodyte, the man did have something of a sense of humor. Witness the video he directed for King Missle for — in suitably freaky style — “Detachable Penis” (filmed lovingly around the East Village)…..