EXHIBITION: History is a Nightclub Downtown AREA, NYC, 1983-1987

Grace Jones at Area NYC 1985Minnie & Bebe Buell in the basement at Pizza a Gogo NYC 1984 Jean-Michel Basquiat 'Pree' at Area NYC 1985Andy Warhol at Area NYC 1985Keith Haring & Painted Boy NYC 1985Karen Findly performance at AREA 1985Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat at Area NYC 1985
I had turned up at AREA looking for a job, and they gave me a camera I had no idea how to use and they told me to point it at anything interesting.” 

It can be said that London born photographer Ben Buchanan’s career started by accident. Having moved to the States in 1978, Ben became the in-house photographer  at the club AREA in New York in 1983. For four years he documented the nightlife at this club and downtown NYC and shot thousands of images.

Peter Harrington, the rare bookshop and gallery based in Mayfair, London, is now exhibiting unseen work from those Buchanan’s years at AREA. History is a Nightclub: Downtown AREA, NYC, 1983-87  has  a spectacular array of 35-40 candid moments from the 80’s featuring the greats of modern art at their most relaxed, alongside a host of celebrity friends including Sting, Tom Waits, The Beastie Boys, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Grace Jones  and John Waters. Photographs of wild nights in the New York scene sit alongside neatly displayed antique and rare books.

Jean-Paul Gaultier at AREA Natural History 1984 © Ben Buchanan. Available from: www.peterharrington.co.uk

“They were always creating something, even when they were relaxing,” says Buchanan, who worked at AREA from 1983 to 1987. “At a meal for the assembled artists there was a sketchbook being passed around – Jean-Michel drew a portrait of (Playboy contributing illustrator) Leroy Neiman – Andy tipped out a bowl of snow peas onto his page, crushed them in, and signed it.” “You never knew who you’d find there each night,” says Buchanan, “But you could be sure they would be glamorous and interesting.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Elizabeth Saltzman “Leroy Nieman” at Mr Chow NYC art dinner 1985. © Ben Buchanan. Available from: www.peterharrington.co.uk

The only rule of Area was that there were no rules. Except for one that Buchanan imposed on himself: “I always asked permission before I took a picture.”  Remarkably,the celebrities rarely refused to pose for Buchanan, who was working as a photographer’s assistant when he got the job as Area’s house cameraman. “I wasn’t a photographer and I didn’t even have a camera,” he confesses.  “They gave me a Nikon F3 hp on the first day and told me to set it to F11 and take the pictures at 1/60th with a flash. And for two years I didn’t press another button.”

Dolf Ludgren & Grace Jones at AREA NYC 1984 Confinement theme. © Ben Buchanan. Available from: www.peterharrington.co.uk

 AREA, a nightclub renowned for its constant and imaginative redecorations – Jean- Michel Basquiat , Andy Warhol , Keith Haring  and David Hockney  are seen attending an art themed party, while Grace Jones poses with a lion for her birthday during the club’s Natural History reinvention. Basquiat, who returned to the headlines this year when his work Untitled sold for $110m at Sotheby’s in Manhattan and who has currently a show at the Barbican in London, can be seen DJing during a party night and relaxing on a bed, while Haring poses with a man he has used as a living canvas for his art.

Jean-Michel Basquiat DJing at Eric Goode’s birthday AREA NYC 1985. © Ben Buchanan. Available from: www.peterharrington.co.uk

The exhibition runs until October 31st.