Later this week, Miami will be the scene of endless Art Basel-related festivities (including a few of our own one-hour dance parties!). What separates a regular person gathering from an arty party, aside from the presence of this mysterious species that we have dubbed artists? What distinguishes dressed-up drunks flailing about from a conceptual happening? We have gathered together a few festive predecessors and recent notable contemporaries whose notorious parties combine parting with, um, artying. This isn’t just because the social gatherings took unusual forms in strange places, but because their attendees were trying to reach something a bit more than plain hedonism — a discourse, a spectacle, or, at the very least, an experience — with mixed results, naturally. Don’t hate. Let’s party.
Image credit: Hillier London
Allow us to direct your attention to this 1972 Palm Beach Daily News article about the notorious Surrealist Party thrown by Baroness Marie-Helene de Rothschild, wife of Baron Guy de Rothschild. “Salvador Dalí was wheeled in by his masseuse and escorted by his muse, Amanda, dressed up in a jawbone.” Then, things got weird.
Image: On Verge
Speaking of weird, Brooklyn art collective CHERYL’s opulently ridiculous video channel and dance parties, as well as their partnerships with the Whitney Museum and MoMA, have made them New York’s cult favorites. You’re never going to know whether you’ll be covered in fake blood, cold pizza, glitter, or mystery goo, but you’ll know you’ll have fun. Or end up with your arm removed and replaced with a stacked-plastic-cup-octopus-limb.
Image credit: Letters of Note
“Dear Mr. Warhol. We have been advised that you have been giving parties in the fourth floor space occupied by you. We understand that they are generally large parties and are held after usual office hours. We have found that your guests have left debris and litter in the public areas…” along with aluminum foil peels, piles of drugs, and withering dreams. Ah, the Factory…
Image credit: The Red List
Since the 17th century, salon gatherings gave a way for the art-types to get noticed and hook themselves up with would-be patrons. There were also readings, unveilings of portraits, and general, jovial (not to mention lucrative) hanging out. Some of the last such salons were held in the 1950s Paris by the eccentric and ever-generous Marie-Laure de Noailles who partied often with Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, and Luis Buñuel. Is that Max Ernst? Why, you fancy, huh?
Image credit: Tel Star Logistics
A successful spin off of the Burning Man Decompression event, the Lost Horizon Night Market got their start in New York and then spread to San Francisco and Detroit. When herds of industrial trucks pop up in the night street, they become pop-up art galleries, circuses, strip clubs, pastry shops, 3-D Twister rooms, mock funerals, Shoot-the-Freak clubs, and creative parlors of all sorts. They’re a bit secret, but when they do sprout up, they’re quite popular. Naturally.
Image credit: Retronaut
The Bauhaus art movement always centered around social festivities, but hit a peak in 1929 with the “Metal Party.” Guests “entered the building by sliding down a large chute that deposited them in the first of several rooms decorated with silver spherical balls.” Weeee!
Image credit: Totally Cool Pix
“We are not a real hotel. This is an adventure at best and an art project at worst,” the Boatel press rep announced. Launched by artist Constance Hockaday, there was no electricity, no kitchens, and no bathroom in the lodging and chill-out space spanning 16 boats — but there was a movie theater and a charged, active atmosphere of untethered Bohemia inspired by the artists who worked on the rooms and an interesting line-up of guests. Ah, the dream. It floats.
Image credit: IMA Museum
Let’s take it down a notch. Some arty parties are small and intimate, like this intense looking scene by Harlem-based artist Joseph Delaney, who rose to fame in the 1930s. Here is a painting of one of his home parties. He has painted himself at the head of the table talking to his friend Jackson Pollock. You are not cool enough to be invited to this party, but you can take a little peak over Delaney’s shoulder. Looks like some deep introspective art discussions are going on. Hello? Hi! No? Sigh.
Image credit: STLAWU
St. Petersburg’s Stray Dog Cafe opened on New Year’s Eve in 1911 and was shut down by the authorities by 1915. Not only was this the famed hang out for the emerging futurists and some of the most important poets of the time — Anna Akhmatova, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Marina Tsvetaeva, and more. Despite its seriousness, it was also a place for festivities, themed nights, and celebrations bordering on avant garde theatre productions. Arty party indeed.
Image: The Accidental Russophile
In 2007, after the death of poet and artist Dmitry Prigov, a group of students, artists, and Cinema Museum employees threw him this feast. The prolific Prigov had been persecuted, censored, banned, and incarcerated in a psychiatric facility in the Soviet times, so, appropriately, his wake was a secret renegade mini-flash mob. The party attendants set up a full spread upon a dining table in a car of the Moscow metro. The faces you see here are those of the now-notorious performance art groups Voina and Pussy Riot, before the international fame and splintering scandals. “He’s considered to have gone to heaven, but if you don’t believe in God, then he has gone underground,” said Voina member and wake organizer Oleg Vorotnikov of the poet Prigov. Touché.