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PHOTOGRAPHS ARE THE BASTARD CHILDREN OF ART & HISTORY

A Sneak Peak at STEVEN KASHER’s New Photography Book MAX’s KANSAS CITY: ART, GLAMOUR, ROCK AND ROLL

By Anita Marie Antonini

January 2011

According to Andy Warhol, “Max’s Kansas City was the exact place where Pop Art and pop life came together.” It’s true: there are only a few places throughout history that perfectly, for their time, manage to fuse life, art and glamour so seamlessly and cook up such a cultural stew. Lou Reed, in his afterward to Steven Kasher’s new photography book of pictures from the heyday of Max’s, writes, “Thousands of words have been written about Max’s and many more will come.” Thousands upon thousands of words—but if a picture is worth a thousand words, then we’re in luck, because Steven Kasher’s Max’s Kansas City: Art, Glamour, Rock and Roll (Abrams Image, 2010) has over a hundred photos of the classic club and its cool clientele. If each picture is worth a thousand words, then Steven Kasher gives us over 100,000 more “words” on what Reed calls “the all-time hang.” In celebration of the release of the new book, Anita Marie Antonini sat down with Steven Kasher to discuss Max’s: the book, the exhibit and the place that started it all.

Anita Marie Antonini: Tell us about the editing process: How did you decide what to include? And what not to include? How long did it take you to do? Personally I would have loved the book to be bigger—I could have kept on looking after I hit the last page.

Steven Kasher: It took about a year to put it all together. I started with Anton Perich and Danny Fields, and Billy Name, because I knew they had done great shots in Max’s and I work with them. Then I realized that one of my heros, John Chamberlain, was a lynchpin of Max’s artists. My uncle had been an actor in one of Chamberlains films from the 60s. I got to be friends with John, and his beautiful wife, Prudence. And we found some great Chamberlain sculptures for the show. We added some other artists who were in the inner circle: Forrest Myers and Neil Williams and Larry Zox. Then we looked around for other photographers who shot in Max’s. Turns out almost no one besides Anton did during Max’s first chapter. But during the later Max’s Upstairs period there were great photographs made of the musicians. Tamar Brazis at Abrams did a lot of the research for that. She found superb performance and backstage shots by photographers notorious and unknown: Marcia Resnick, Stephanie Chernikowski, Bob Gruen, Nicky L, Lily Hou, Ebet Roberts and more. We couldn’t include all the fine work in the book; there is much more in the show.

AMA:  Is there a camaraderie that you think still exists today among artists, musicians, and the glamorous? Or was that a specific period in time that just could never happen again?

SK: There are scenes and hangouts today that bring visual artists and musicians and designers together, of course. All over the world. But nothing like Max’s. It was a smaller art world then, lonelier, less spotlights, less press, less money. Somehow Max’s became THE place, not one of many. It stood above the other hangs for years. Things come and go much faster now. And Max’s owner and impresario, Mickey Ruskin, was a uniquely hip, sensitive, nurturing, generous, brave guy. He had a hugely successful bar/restaurant for years but saved not a dime. He let all the artists run up tabs, pay when they could, or never. Who does that today?

AMA: There can never be another Max’s, but what do you think is the present day Max’s Kansas City in this post-internet world?  Or could something like Max’s even happen today?

SK: Not in New York: the world of artists, musicians, hipsters here is way too big to get under one roof. And, sadly, creative people don’t really meet, mate, and converse in bars as much anymore. But somewhere, sometime there will be another Max’s. When a big cultural paradigm shift is in the offing. Maybe when prevailing Western models of cool are replaced by something from the Far East, or the Middle East, or Africa.

AMA: What is interesting to me from looking at the book is how uncomplicated the time period feels which seems in contrast to how chaotic some of the photos are in the details. The overall content is in the posture, eye contact and how so much is reveled in those details. Can you elaborate on that at all?

SK: Good photographs will always body forth the attitudes and poses, the faces and fashions particular to a time. It was a fraught, creative, revolutionary time. Max’s was the place where new models of cool–more androgynous—were coming to the fore and mixing with the older, more macho models. James Dean, Marlon Brando, Miles Davis, and Jackson Pollock were being replaced by Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and Janis Joplin and Andy Warhol. How beautiful is all that cultural turmoil and revolution—captured in the photographs of Anton Perich, for instance!

AMA: Ephemera adds the nostalgic touch throughout the book. The New York Rock Drink menu is very entertaining and has a definite 70s/80s sense of a humor. I would be all for bringing that back. What would your drink of choice be? And why do you think the Patti Smith was so expensive?

SK: Entertaining for sure, but I wouldn’t want to drink that crap. Way too sweet and synthetic, like alcoholic Kool-aid. I’m looking for a more rye sense of liquor. Patti is generous as one can be, but never cheap.

AMA: Your gallery focuses on social & historical photography as well as contemporary fine art photography. Do the photos that document a period become important because of their historical value and are they not considered fine art in and of themselves? Or can they be both?

SK: Photographs are the bastard children of art and history, of sensibility and reality. Always. So-called art photography is a tiny subset of the much wider field of endeavor.  Great photographs from that wider field can become art when they are recontextualized as such. But they remain also part of other disciplines: documentary, photojournalism, science, fashion, snapshot, etc. They cross open borders back and forth, are democratic and cosmopolitan. I find that very stimulating, philosophically and aesthetically. As do the many collectors, private and public, that come to us to find these sorts of interdisciplinary photography.

Steven Kasher is the owner and director of Steven Kasher Gallery. He has put together photography books such as The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-68 (Abbeville, 1996) and America and the Tintype (Steidl/ICP, 2008). His newest book—Max’s Kansas City: Art, Glamour, Rock and Roll—features photographs of the famed New York City nightclub, restaurant and music venue from throughout the 1970s.  In conjunction with the book release, the Steven Kasher Gallery will have an exhibition of over 100 vintage and modern photographs  and large-scale sculptures and paintings by the inner circle of Max’s Kansas City artists, including John Chamberlain, Forrest Myers, Larry Zox, Neil Williams, Dan Flavin and Larry Poons. The exhibition ran from September 15 through October 9, 2010. The new exhibition at Steven Kasher Gallery is “William Albert Allard: Five Decades.” That exhibition will run for one more week, until January 8, 2011. Steven Kasher Gallery is located at 521 W. 23rd Street, New York, NY, 10011.

LINKS:

Steven Kasher Gallery

Steven Kasher interviewed by Anita Antonini

Photography by Anton Perich, Nicky L and Marsha Resnick, Courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery

Design by Marie Havens

Captions:

Page 1:

Iggy Pop, 1973, Photography by Anton Perich, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

Page 2:

(Top Left to Bottom Right)

1- Andrea Feldman in front of Max’s Kansas City, 1972, Photography by Anton Perich, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

2- Unidentified, Tony Masaccio, Forrest Myers, and David Budd, 1971, Photography by Anton Perich, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

3- Pristine Condition and Danny Fields, 1973, Photography by Anton Perich, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

4- A patron, in 1973, with the red-fluorescent Dan Flavin sculpture, Photography by Anton Perich, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

5- Alan Vega (of Suicide), 1978, Photography by Marcia Resnick, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

6- Taylor Mead, 1973, Photography by Anton Perich, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

7- Debbie Harry, Blondie at Max’s Kansas City, 1976, Photography by Nicky L, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

8- Eric Emerson and Nico, 1972, Photography by Anton Perich, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

Page 3:

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, 1974, Photography by Anton Perich, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

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