Famous clubs have offered artists the perfect platform to design fantasy environments, says Chris Hall
Caligula throwing a party,” was how the funk musician Rick James described the legendary Studio 54 in New York, which opened in 1977. There was a cocaine snorting “Man and the Spoon” feature that would descend from the ceiling when required, there were piles of cash in the back room, unisex bathrooms and stunts like Bianca Jagger riding a horse on the dancefloor led by a naked man covered in gold glitter.
The key thing about Studio 54, which features in a new exhibition about global club culture at Vitra Design Museum, was its adaptability. It could become a different fantasy environment to act as backdrop for the outrageous costumes and theatre of the party goers – such as when four tonnes of glitter were dropped from the club’s ceiling on New Year’s Eve or when the fashion designer Valentino had a circus-themed birthday party with sand and mermaids on trapezes.
“The 60s and 70s saw the rise of the idea that you don’t design a nightclub, you bring the minimal design elements to make a nightclub,” says Catharine Rossi, a design historian at Kingston University, who has co-curated the exhibition. “What’s important is not the physical space – really the nightclub is just a container. Clubs are made through lighting and sound, psychotropic drugs and people.”
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