"This is a story of how one woman in a NY basement bar created an art scene that both defined its time and cultivated a cadre of artists now scattered around the globe.
My project is about the vibrancy of New York's 1980's art scene and it is my homage to that one woman -- Maggie Smith -- for nurturing me and so many other young artists in her Times Square bar, Tin Pan Alley.
In 1982, new to the city, I created a set of humorous postcards designed to convince the Village Voice photo editor, Fred McDarrah, to let me work for the newspaper. The postcards had pictures of my friend Julia Anderson as the personality, “Betty the Enlightened Waitress”. Six cards and 6 months later I got the internship, and as Voice photographer through the 1980s, I had a press pass to life in NYC.
I met Maggie Smith in 1983 when I stumbled upon the bar coming home one night to my Hell's Kitchen apartment. Maggie also thought the "Betty" postcards were funny and asked me to mount a show of the work at the bar. So my first photographs made in Tin Pan Alley are from my October 1983 “Betty” opening. Then in 1985 I had a second show of pictures of musicians made in the bar during 1984.
Tin Pan Alley was more than a bar -- it was like a family and Maggie was the bar’s matriarch. The term Tin Pan Alley was given to the section of NY where the music publishing business was headquartered from the 1890s to the 1920s. Originally Maggie’s bar was on 23rd Street, but in the late 70s, she moved the business to the 49th Street bar, already named Tin Pan Alley.
Maggie says she bought into the bar for purely economic reasons. A long-time advocate for the rights of political prisoners, she needed money to help fund her social and political work. The bar also provided her a venue to inform the community by hosting many forums and providing a home away from home for artists, illustrators, photographers, poets, and musicians.
The people who played and exhibited in the bar were on the forefront of the myriad of musical genres and art movements of the 1980's. The bar closed in 1988, but it’s influence lives in the collective memory of the artists featured there. My goal is to preserve a piece of this history and to tell the story of 1980’s New York art scene. Maggie Smith has agreed to collaborate on the project, as have many others including Kiki Smith, Ulli Rimkus and Brian Clamp of ClampArt in NYC, who has agreed to host an exhibition of this work.
During my years photographing at the bar, roughly 1983 to 1987, New York City was a place of artistic expansion and Tin Pan Alley exemplifies that time. It was a place where downtown artists mixed with locals, a place where scores of young musicians performed, ranging from jazz and samba, to punk, rock and avant-garde.
Many emerging artists and musicians passed in front of my camera. Among them were such diverse talents as internationally acclaimed sculptor/printmaker Kiki Smith; renowned photographer Nan Goldin; the director Jim Jarmusch and Ulli Rimkus, founder of the East Village bar Max Fish. Musicians such as the Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, Christian Marclay, Virus, Henry Threadgill, Arto Lindsay, Rhys Chatham, Wayne Horvitz and others performed at Tin Pan.
Maggie Smith’s commitment to art and politics is an example to me of how much one person can make a difference. Now I want to discover the impact and ripple effect that she and her bar, Tin Pan Alley, has had on the lives of all these amazing artists.
My project, entitled Tin Pan Alley Live, pairs my photographs from the 1980s with new portraits and excerpts from interviews to form a documentary book. For the documentary film, I will be visiting with artists in studios, homes or musical venues, tape rolling as they look back to that time period. Many of the creative patrons of Tin Pan Alley will share their work from the 80s and today, revealing the threads that span the time.
In late 1987 after being diagnosed with cancer, I relocated to Minnesota to be with my family during treatment. Now, 20 years later, I see how influential that time period in New York was for me and I want to explore how it affected others.
Locating the people in the Tin Pan Alley photographs is like going on a treasure hunt. Starting with Maggie, I will investigate the old scene to ask “Where are they now?” For instance, after Maggie sold the bar she went back to school and is now a Professor of Criminal Justice doing data analysis at John Jay University, researching issues of our time.
Like many of the artists, Tin Pan Alley’s first house band, The Drongos, are scattered around the world. Currently two of the members of the band are married to one another and living in New Zealand and another band member is living in Brooklyn, married to the bar maid he met at TPA over 20 years ago. Richard Kennedy still performs every night in different pubs around London and Bath.
Many NYC musicians continue to perform; John Zorn, for example, (with his new venue The Stone), Bobby Previte, Arto Lindsay and Ivan Julian. I have located others like the European All Girl Band Unknown Gender; Lynn Messinger now has a private recording studio in Austin Texas and Ethan Winogrand (son of the renowned photographer Gary Winogrand) is performing worldwide.
Some have turned to other ventures such as Salon Bonton’s Eric Darton, author of "Divided We Stand: A Biography of New York City's World Trade Center" or James Kontra, of Patrons Kiki Smith and Nan Goldin are internationally known yet this unique place is unknown.
Thanks for the letters from people regarding Tin Pan. Please write to me..
- Keri Pickett
Keri Pickett - Director & Producer
Noah Bucher - Producer
BOARD OF ADVISORS:
Margaret Smith - Former owner of TPA, Prof. of Criminal Justice Ethics, John Jay University
Kiki Smith - Print Maker, Sculptor
Brian Clamp of Clamp Art - Gallery Owner, NYC, Photography Professional
Uli Rimkus - Founder of the Max Fish bar, lower east side, NY
Joan Morgenstern - Art Collector, Houston, TX
Michal Daniel - Photographer
Martin Daniel - Prof. of Screen Playwriting
Martha Walner - Co-founder of Deep Dish TV, member of Paper Tiger Television.