Photographer Jeannette Montgomery Barron’s Diary of the New York Art World and Downtown Scene in the 1980s, Plus a Talk with the Artist

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Jeannette Montgomery Barron is known for her portraits of the New York art world and downtown scene in the 1980s — a vibrant, creative chapter in the city’s history. She’s photographed some of the world’s most famous artists, including Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat (thanks to a 1984 assignment from gallerist Bruno Bischofberger), and cultural figures of the time. From the Mudd Club and the Palladium, to the Factory and Bianca Jagger’s social circle, Jeannette Montgomery Barron was there with camera in hand.

She’s since collected her photos and other ephemera from the time period (club flyers, newspaper clippings, letters, notes by the photographer and friends) in a scrapbook-style diary. My Years in the 1980s: New York Art Scene is a journey into the past that traces a rich cultural history through one artist’s intimate mementos. The book will make its US debut on September 28, with a book signing and display of the artist’s personal archives at Glenn Horowitz Bookseller on September 30 from 6-8PM.

See a preview of the book in our gallery. We also spoke to Montgomery Barron by email about her downtown years, photographing Warhol, and more.

Flavorwire: Describe the sights and sounds when you first walked into The Factory in the ‘80s. What was the vibe? Who was hanging around? What was the one thing that struck you about Andy?

Jeannette Montgomery Barron: I wish I could honestly tell you that I remember all of this in great detail, but I don’t. I was so anxious about being given the chance to photograph Andy Warhol for the first time (in The Factory’s second location, which was located on Union Square West) that it was all a bit of a blur. Here’s what I do remember: I was given five minutes to take the portrait. The sitting took place in what seemed to be a sort of waiting area — there was a stuffed dog in the corner. Andy was wearing a down vest. I think I remember [Warhol superstar] Brigid Berlin sitting at the reception desk, knitting. I went on to photograph Andy a few more times in the years after, much more successfully.

I would say you have an affinity for objects as personal totems, given the portraits in the new book, the series you did about your mom, and your still life work. You’ve been in the most personal spaces of some of the world’s greatest artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Barbara Kruger, Alex Katz, and Cindy Sherman. Based on your observations, do you remember the objects in their studios or the things that seemed important to them? Did you take something away from your visits to bring to your own studio practice?

I always love going in to homes and studios and seeing what objects, books, movies, etc. people surround themselves with. I always come home with my eyes more sharpened. I admire clutter, but I try to keep my studio space very minimal. On the wall to the left of my computer are a few postcards that are important to me. On my desk, a paperweight of my mother’s and some stones from a favorite beach in Italy. I remember a ping pong table in Cindy Sherman’s studio. Alex Katz’s home and studio were both very minimally furnished and organized.

One of the exciting things about downtown New York City during the ‘80s was the intersection of film, art, literature — all these talented figures seemed to merge worlds. You collaborated with Jorie Graham, for example, on the Photographs and Poems series. Is New York City still a place where collaboration and/or mentorship is alive and well? What has changed about the creative climate in New York City between then and now, for better or worse?

New York was that place and probably still is for many people. I haven’t lived in New York City for twelve years. I lived in Rome, Italy with my family for eleven years and now live in Connecticut where my husband, James, has an art gallery. Many New York artists have moved on to other locations. In our immediate vicinity in Connecticut we have Jasper Johns, Carroll Dunham, Julian Lethbridge, Laurie Simmons, and Philip Taaffe living and working. So I find that artistic energy is not necessarily limited to New York. I do go in to the city quite a bit and still find it to be a place to make things happen. I always feel energized, but am happy to retreat back to the country to try to absorb it all.

You had a close relationship with women like Bianca Jagger during that time. What was it like being a woman in the downtown/art scene?

It was so much fun hanging around with Bianca, lunching, going to the gym, shopping. People really reacted when you entered a room with Bianca, and they still do. I imagine people took me more seriously when they saw me with her.

© Jeannette Montgomery Barron

© Jeannette Montgomery Barron

© Jeannette Montgomery Barron

© Jeannette Montgomery Barron

© Jeannette Montgomery Barron

© Jeannette Montgomery Barron

© Jeannette Montgomery Barron

© Jeannette Montgomery Barron

© Jeannette Montgomery Barron

© Jeannette Montgomery Barron