The New York Supper Club: From Nightlife to Social Distancing is an online initiative presenting a collection of photographs and souvenirs that document the heyday of New York’s supper club nightlife in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Unconstrained by the limitations of a traditional gallery, this online exhibit was curated by Parsons SDS students. The collection was provided by Chris Engel in conjunction with the City Reliquary, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit museum and civic organization that celebrates everyday artifacts and connects audiences to New York's past and present.
The original project was scheduled to open at a West Village storefront granted by nonprofit arts organization Chashama. Unfortunately, the live exhibition was cancelled by COVID19 restrictions, and the only way this project could come to life was to use the one remaining source of social interaction: the Internet. With this opportunity, we were able to broaden our audience and help the City Reliquary reach a new audience across time and space.
During these uncertain times, in which galleries are temporarily closed, we invite audiences to peer into the past with a digital dining experience. In this collection of photographs, menus, and artifacts from Manhattan during the mid-20th century, we feel the sociocultural elements of New York glamor and nightlife. The New York Supper Club: From Nightlife to Social Distancing offers an eclectic mix of place settings, each created by students to offer an individual interpretation of the collection.
Although this exhibition is a celebration of an era, there were many societal uncertainties and contradictions that occurred during the time. Supper clubs were created for the up and coming middle class post World War II. Supper clubs were a way to create a space for those with newfound leisure time. However, most of these clubs relied on exoticism and fetishization, using people of color as performers. The various cultures exemplified at these supper clubs were often inaccurate and glamorized without credit. Performances were often led by women who were expected to dress in elaborate but very revealing outfits. As you view this exhibition, it is imperative to keep these ideas in mind as our true goal is to shine a light on the social injustices taking place within these spaces.
Nightlife today is surprisingly not as different as one would assume. Each club has a scene, and within each scene lies people from all walks of life, joined together by New York City. Clubs still have the allure they had in the past, only modernized. They have remained a glamourous aspect of the city, and help to bring New York alive. Today everyone is welcomed to join in the festivities. Exclusivity is a thing of the past, and as we move forward we could only hope that these doors remain open to everyone of all ethnicities, sexualities, genders, and classes.