GROUPE presents “Clayton Patterson: Portraits from the Pyramid,” an exhibition of portraits taken in the mid -80's at New York's legendary Pyramid Club.
Over the course of several years, documentarian Clayton Patterson photographed the drag queens who performed at the “Whispers” Cabaret every Sunday night at the Pyramid Club at 101 Avenue A. These boundlessly creative artists, managed to create new personas, each one more outrageous and compelling than the one before, with little to no money. Patterson calls his subjects “availabilists”, (after the term coined by performance artist and musician Kembra Pfahler), who utilized everything from shards of broken safety glass to abandoned lampshades in order to transform themselves into the ultimate works of art for the Pyramid.
"You just had this kind of spontaneous, unraveling creativity every weekend. The club was like a crystallization of the Lower East Side. Unlike SoHo, which was more of a careerist place for artists, the Lower East Side was an expressionist place, where it was more about just being an artist than being famous or rich. Also, in that period, it was one of the most racially integrated neighborhoods in the world: It had Chinese, Indians, Bangladeshis, blacks, Hispanics, Jews, as well as lifestyle diversity—the Hell’s Angels, skinheads, drag queens, religious zealots. And at the Pyramid Club, security would be people from the hardcore scene, which is supposedly very antigay, but all of these stereotypes didn’t apply there. It was like a free zone.”—Clayton Patterson
Born and raised in Calgary, Canada, artist and activist Clayton Patterson emigrated with his partner, Elsa Rensaa, to New York City in 1979, eventually moving to a two-story sewing factory and storefront on Essex Street on the Lower East Side. In the early ’80s, Patterson began exhibiting the photographs he took of local residents in the space’s front window. Over time, he amassed an exhaustive photo, video, and audio archive of every aspect of the Lower East Side, including his pioneering videos of the Tompkins Square Park police riots in 1988. Patterson has published several books, including Captured: A Film/Video History of the Lower East Side and Resistance: A Radical Political and Social History of the Lower East Side. His photographs were the subject of the exhibition Clayton Patterson: L.E.S. Captured at Kinz+Tillou Fine Art in New York in 2009, the same year Captured, a documentary about Patterson by Dan Levin, Ben Solomon, and Jenner Furst, was released. A selection of his Pyramid Portraits were shown at Esopus Space, New York, in 2010.