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Gallery 98’s extensive new online exhibition resurrects the anomalous Baird Jones: the curator, club party promoter, photographer, author, and celebrity gossip who personified the free-wheeling, polymorphous spirit of fin-de-siècle downtown New York. When Baird died, in 2008, the New York Times ran the headline “Man Departs a Life Lived on the Fringes of Fame.” But Baird’s life was much more than that. This exhibition exposes an over-the-top conceptual force, whose oeuvre of witty actions reflected a time and place (the 1980s East Village) where art, commerce, fun, provocation, and self-serving intellectualization were all inextricably entangled.
Baird achieved national attention when his “dwarf tossing” and “midget bowling” nightclub events drew the attention of New York governor Mario Cuomo, who signed legislation banning the practices in 1990. Baird took the high road in an Associated Press article, justifying the dwarf events as “performance art designed to satirize the values of mainstream America.”
When Baird migrated his “celebrity art” exhibitions (featuring the likes of Miles Davis, Charles Manson, and Leni Riefenstahl) from Manhattan nightclubs to a network of under-funded, under-attended museums, he carried the post-pop confusion of “high” and “low” to new extremes, pointing the way to today’s starstruck art world.
Baird’s reputation lives on through the coveted party invitations that he issued in a continual stream for a quarter century. These enticing descriptions of offbeat entertainments, typeset in plain text on colored paper, now read like a printed-out Twitter feed, documents of his creative mind.
You can view the complete exhibition online at Gallery 98.