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8 Hours at the Guggenheim’s 24-Hour Party

A view of 'Agathe Snow: Stamina' at the Guggenheim Museum (all photos by the author unless indicated otherwise)
A view of ‘Agathe Snow: Stamina’ at the Guggenheim Museum (all photos by the author unless indicated otherwise)

Every party has a life cycle. It begins with innocence. Children dance, the early birds eat free cheese crisps. Alcohol is poured; everyone begins his or her ascent. The beautiful people arrive. The children rub their eyes. The music gets louder, the lights more colorful and chaotic. The children are wheeled home. People unlock their knees. The addicts light their cigarettes. The trendy people arrive and the drinking begins in earnest. Loose confessions and unsolicited rants blend. A drink is spilled. This is the night’s peak; when no one is too tired or too drunk and the music is still good and anything is possible. After that it becomes a sweat-glazed blur of intention; drugs, more booze, eye fucking, and too many cigarettes. Strangers become fleeting friends until one finds someone else with a lighter. People diverge. Some walk home, others dance until their feet are numb. A bit longer and only the deep cuts are left: the real partiers, depending on how you define stamina. They get lost for a few hours and find what they came for. Then the sun comes up and those who remain remember there’s a day outside. They find their way home, stopping for orange juice along the way. The party is given a swift burial by waste management workers and everyone pretends they’ll remember the grit forever.

Last night I attended the Guggenheim Museum’s first 24-hour party. That is where, on a dying iPhone, I tapped out the paragraph above. I was determined, in my white wine-fueled state, to summarize the life cycle of the party. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Cat Marnell. She was there last night and bingeing on her short-lived VICE column makes me feel sober. But I was, after all, at a party for a party.

Last night’s event marked the premiere of French artist Agathe Snow’s 24-hour film Stamina (2015), which chronicles a 24-hour party Snow threw in Lower Manhattan in 2005. My generation would call that #meta. The film is part of the Guggenheim’s Storylines exhibition, which features over 100 contemporary works that speak to how artists of today engage with story and narrative in their work, especially performance art. Stamina was born in 2005, when Snow wanted to document post-9/11 downtown culture and the underground party scene.

Agathe Snow, 'Stamina' (2015), color video installation, with sound, 24 hours (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; commissioned by Deutsche Bank AG in consultation with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, by exchange, 2015 © Agathe Snow)
Agathe Snow, ‘Stamina’ (2015), color video installation, with sound, 24 hours (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; commissioned by Deutsche Bank AG in consultation with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, by exchange, 2015 © Agathe Snow) (click to enlarge)

“After 9/11 [my friends and I] had like 2 years where we would stay in each other’s houses, have house parties, go up on the roof, whatever. I had the idea that I wanted to make a TV show of people dancing so I’m going to use my friends, they weren’t meant to all be artists,” Snow told me. “I was thinking about the original dance reality shows, those dance marathons in the 1930s, dance parties of the Great Depression. I thought this would be the dance party of the great manic-depression.”

Snow enlisted nine cameras — some wielded by professionals, some not — hundreds of friends, and one loft on Ann Street. Unsure of what to do with the more than 200 hours of footage collected that night, Snow put the project aside for almost 10 years. Recently, encouraged by friends, she set out on the yearlong process of editing it into what became Stamina. One camera had been stolen, much of the footage had been damaged, but she made do. The Guggenheim acquired the work once complete and set about trying to figure out the best way to display it. The consensus seemed obvious: a 24-hour viewing party.

“Have we ever had an event that mimics what’s going on in the piece? No. In terms of creating an event around an artwork and mimicking what’s happening in the artwork like this, I don’t think we’ve ever done that,” said Joan Young, one of the five curators who organized Storylines. I teased her, asking if they planned to open a nightclub in the museum. “I don’t know how many 24-hour parties we’re going to have coming up,” she joked. “If it’s driven by an artwork then that makes sense and it could happen again.”

A view of 'Agathe Snow: Stamina' at the Guggenheim Museum
A view of ‘Agathe Snow: Stamina’ at the Guggenheim Museum

I arrived at 6:53pm (53 minutes after the screening and party officially began). The museum was relatively empty. Three children danced on the electric, checkered dance floor at the center of the museum’s rotunda. A billboard-sized screen was set up on one side of the room with a bar to its right and a small stage to its left. Next to the stage was an impromptu lounge filled with glittering pillows Snow made for the occasion. The film was synched to real time — it was 6:53pm here, it was 6:53pm there. We all stood around watching a party that hadn’t really started yet.

I was whisked outside to do my interview with Snow. She was sitting on one of the low, white walls that surround the Guggenheim. She had a pack of American Spirits balanced on top of her iPhone and was hugging friends as they arrived in an endless flow. Almost 40, she oozed youth, clearly pulsing with the excitement that comes from being at your own premiere and party. Her outfit could only be described as hippy meets vintage boho meets gypsy. I, in a white silk jumpsuit, sat down next to her on the wall.

“I feel overdressed,” I said. “Oh nooo,” she gushed in her surprisingly thick French accent. She sent her friends away so we could chat, but not before pointing out the handful of them who’d been at the original party. Many were armed with cameras, just as they had been that night in 2005. One, an older man with skeletons sewn on his hat, took our picture as I interviewed her.

A view of 'Agathe Snow: Stamina' at the Guggenheim Museum
A view of ‘Agathe Snow: Stamina’ at the Guggenheim Museum

I asked why they decided to throw a 24-hour party to premiere a film about a 24-hour party. “There’s just no way around it,” she said without hesitation. Snow explained that the film was made “in no way to memorialize” a certain group of people, it’s much more about a moment. But she didn’t want it to be just about that moment with those people, she wanted to open it up to anyone. And she did.

Tickets for the event were sold at the door, anyone could buy one. The crowd at last night’s soirée, much like the one at the 2005 iteration, was sprinkled with socialites, writers, artists, musicians, and other creative types, but there were also families, elderly couples, finance guys, and even what appeared to be a group of high school kids.

The first live band went on at 8pm and a revolving door of musical acts followed. The non-live music was for the most part what played at the original party.

Around 9:30pm a friend and assistant editor at Condé Nast leaned in and said, “It’s like Studio 54 vibes right now, like the Twilight Zone.” I made her hold my wine while I took photographs, then we went out front for a cigarette. The front of the Guggenheim was unrecognizable, scattered with cigarette-smoking hipsters and stern security guards. It felt like the exterior of a club in the Meatpacking District. The fashionably late parted clouds of smoke to get to the entryway, where security checked IDs. People eyed each other between taking selfies and talking about art. Back inside some had begun to dance and the line for the one-person bathroom was getting long.

A view of 'Agathe Snow: Stamina' at the Guggenheim Museum
A view of ‘Agathe Snow: Stamina’ at the Guggenheim Museum

Stamina is what you would imagine 24 hours of party footage filmed by mostly non-professionals might look like. There are wide shots of the dance floor, closeups of smiling faces and shots being poured. For a good while an Adrian Grenier lookalike walks around with a microphone interviewing partygoers, though you can’t hear what they’re saying over the music. At one point I realized a man being interviewed on screen was standing 10 feet away. “He hasn’t aged a day,” my friend said.

A clearly intoxicated man eyed my press badge and decided to do an unsolicited interview. “I could have made that video. I guess there’s something artistic about it … it’s just walking around with a camera” he said. I resisted explaining that that was part of the point. Until around 10pm the party on the screen matched the real-life party in terms of energy and engagement. After 10pm those on the screen began dancing with a ferocity last night’s crowd simply didn’t possess. Instead most watched each other. The young, stunning wife of a Guggenheim heir whispered in my ear the names of socialites as they passed. My editor friend pointed out Lissy Trullie, the singer-songwriter and former model, who was taking pictures of the band.

After midnight a music festival atmosphere started to float over everything. People were dancing in a slightly drunk but genuine way, like the people on the screen. A man with a self-made necklace he described as a “mouse potato” asked me for a cigarette. A woman, speaking to a group of the original partygoers proclaimed: “I wasn’t at that party because I was pregnant!”

A view of 'Agathe Snow: Stamina' at the Guggenheim Museum
A view of ‘Agathe Snow: Stamina’ at the Guggenheim Museum

Close to 1am most everyone was either dancing or smoking outside. My friends long gone, I sat alone on the white wall where I had interviewed Snow and watched people. By 2am I’d milled and monitored as much as I could. I’d promised myself, Snow, and the Guggenheim’s press office that I would try to stay until 6am but realized that was a promise I’d have to break. I took one last look at it all and walked off into the rain with my press badge, which I’d forgotten to return. I went home and reviewed the notes I’d taken on my iPhone:

7:00pm: wobbly closeups of buffet
7:40pm: the smoothie truck guy outside packs up
7:58pm: more people, children are gone
8:03pm: the first band comes on, dance floor changes colors
8:22pm: first selfie taker spotted
8:45pm: the second band goes on. Calm
8:55pm: three boys who look underage dance at front of stage, Skelton hat follows action, floral shirt saxophone
9:28pm: pregnant woman leaves
9:39pm: so many people are yawning
10:18pm: third band goes on, crowd facing front like sheep, too afraid or uninspired to dance but their knees move
11:35pm: Snow having cigarette out front
11:58pm: people flocking to drinking fountain, funky undefined part of the night
12:10am: dance floor vibrating
12:22am: it starts raining
12:25am: perfume lingering in air, everyone on cell phone
12:52am: a cockroach and more people out for a cigarette
12:58am: Guggenheim bouncers seem overwhelmed

And that was the end of my notes. When I woke up I turned to Instagram for answers about what had happened between 2am and 6am. From what I can glean it was more dancing followed by a gradual loss of critical mass. The photos posted around 6am show an almost empty rotunda. There is one of Snow though; it appears she made it the full 24 hours. Now that is a woman with stamina.

Agathe Snow: Stamina took place at the Guggenheim Museum (1071 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) between 6pm on Thursday, August 20 and 6pm on Friday, August 21. It was part of the exhibition Storylines, which continues through September 9.

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