Roland Hagenberg at Gallery 360

by Monty DiPietro

Leonardo DiCaprio’s recent and ongoing acquisitions of large works by New York graffiti painter Jean-Michel Basquiat recall the heady days of Yuppie-driven contemporary art collecting that made a whirlwind of the Big Apple’s loft and gallery circuit during the 1980s. The mood of the time and place are reflected in Neo-Expressionist-painter-cum-quasi-biographical-filmmaker Julian Schnabel’s 1996 movie "Basquiat," and now a personal look at the artists who made the scene is up at Tokyo’s Gallery 360°, a pleasant-enough fifty square meter exhibition space located at the money-fed Minato Ward intersection of Omotesando and Aoyama streets.

"Artists in New York" is the work of Tokyo-based photographer Roland Hagenberg, 44, whose frequent assignments for magazines including Architectural Digest and German Vogue enabled him to keep a pied-a-terre in the East Village while the New York new art market was booming. The show features some 30 black-and-white portraits Hagenberg shot from 1983-1986, and the subjects are a who’s-who of the artists of the time: Basquiat and Schnabel are joined by David Salle, Francesco Clemente, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and dozens of others. The artists were photographed in their homes or studios, resulting in relaxed and personal pictures that seem more candid than posed.

"I just called them up and said, ‘I’m a young journalist from Germany, would it be OK to come by,’" recalls Hagenberg, who was often able to parlay the sessions into work on books and catalogues. He says he even made a few friends, and during a talk at his packed opening party, Hagenberg’s upbeat demeanor dips only once, and that is when he notes how many of the artists pictured in the exhibition are now dead. For all the money that was swirling around, there was also no shortage of suffering suffusing the scene.

"I’m glad I started from the beginning to make the photographs in black and white," says Hagenberg, "because that captures the sad and erotic atmosphere that all the studios seemed to have at the time." Although he often got close to his subjects, Hagenberg also knew when to keep his distance, and says he was less than totally enamored with some of the art stars he met, whom he found hypocritical.

"On one hand they were fighting for Mapplethorpe’s exhibition to be shown, but on the other hand they were always trying to censor what was written about them, or how they appeared in photographs, and this made me really uncomfortable." One subject that sticks out in Hagenberg’s memory is media artist Barbara Kruger, whom he snapped in what he describes as "a butch and unsexy pose." This was years before Kruger became successful and rich and traded in her sweatshirts for designer dresses, and Hagenberg recalls that the polished-up Kruger, "was very very angry" when the sloppy portrait appeared in print. Hey, maybe artists aren’t all that different after all.

"Artists in New York" is probably best-described as a show for fans. Why else would a person who has never seen a Mark Kostabi painting want to see a picture of the artist? (Trick question – the quirky Kostabi hired painters to paint canvases for him, then signed the pictures as his own – has anyone actually seen a Kostabi painting, really?) People who like contemporary painting should enjoy this show, and find interest in the observations Hagenberg jotted down during his sessions. These texts are displayed with the portraits, and make the exhibition a good, personal introduction to the people who made the pictures that made New York’s 1980s art scene so exciting that a decade later, galleries, dealers and collectors (including the tiny actor with the titanic wallet) are still lining up to buy a piece of the action.


notes: Until Oct 16, 1999 (3406-5823)
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