Night Magic: Brooklyn Museum Exhibit Resurrects Studio 54

Photo: Jonathan Dorado

For a brief moment, the New York City nightclub Studio 54 wondrously captured and magnified the style, glamour, and music of the late ’70s.

The Brooklyn Museum is now celebrating a glittering time in New York social life with the exhibition “Studio 54: Night Magic,” which runs through November 8th and displays some 650 objects—fashion, photographs, drawings, film, stage sets, and more—that bring the storied disco back to life.

Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

When Syracuse University buddies Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager opened Studio 54 in 1977 inside an empty opera house in a derelict neighborhood on West 54th Street near Eighth Avenue, New York City was down and out. But their brilliant transformation of the space with kinetic lighting, spectacular sets, and booming music soon attracted celebrities including Liza Minnelli, Halston, Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Warhol, Cher, Calvin Klein, Diana Ross, and legions more. At a time when the birth control pill had recently been invented and gay liberation was flourishing, the club became the embodiment of creative expression, sexual freedom, and gender fluidity.

“Studio 54 helped New York City rebrand itself and set the gold standard for a dynamic night out,” says Matthew Yobobosky, Senior Curator of Fashion and Material Culture at the Brooklyn Museum, who was inspired to curate and design this show after watching the 2018 documentary Studio 54, directed by Matt Tyrnauer.

The exhibition fills large cavernous galleries of the Brooklyn Museum, one after another, while dance music from Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, the Sylvers plays overhead. Sleek, chic fashions on display by Halston, Calvin Klein, CARR, Stephen Burrows, Norma Kamali, Giorgio Sant’Angelo and others shine with the lean, clean, body-conscious lines that epitomize American style. “These clothes are designed to look good when you move,” observes Yobobosky.

Photo: Jonathan Dorado

Studio 54 lasted for only 33 months and closed in 1980 when Rubell and Schrager pleaded guilty to tax evasion and then served 13 months in prison. The AIDS crisis, too, intervened, claiming the lives of many Studio staff and clientele; Rubell passed away in 1989. Though the club sparkled briefly, the memories and music of Studio 54 forever live on in the city’s collective zeitgeist — if for only a short while longer on Eastern Parkway.

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