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Night Fever. Designing Club Culture from 1960 to Today

An exhibition at The Luigi Pecci Center in Tuscany focusing on the architecture of music clubs

Night Fever. Designing Club Culture from 1960 to Today An exhibition at The Luigi Pecci Center in Tuscany focusing on the architecture of music clubs

Few institutions will reflect a contemporary culture as accurately as will its club culture. From discos to raves, these spaces have acted as magnifiers to put in focus the turbulent times that often rage outside its closed doors. They have pushed and questioned the established notions of fun and togetherness and made it possible to experiment with alternative lifestyles, many times ahead of what society would consider being acceptable. Luigi Pecci Center for Contemporary Art in Tuscany is putting on an exhibition with this premise in mind, to guide its visitors through the architectural ages of club culture from the 60’s up to today. The exhibition which is produced by the Vitra Design Museum and ADAM - Brussels Design Museum will be shown at Pecci as its only Italian exhibit. 

Night Fever. Designing Club Culture 1960 - Today examines the history of clubbing, with examples ranging from Italian nightclubs in the 1960s created by radicals such as Ian Schrager's legendary Studio 54 in New York (1977-80); from Les Bains Douches by Philippe Starck in Paris (1978) to the most recent Double Club in London (2008), conceived by the German artist Carsten Höller for the Prada Foundation.

With films, vintage photographs, posters, clothes, and works of art, the exhibition also includes a series of light and sound installations that will accompany the visitor on a fascinating journey through the world of glamor, subcultures and study of the lives lived within the never-ending night. The exhibition follows a chronological itinerary that starts with the discos of the ’60s, which for the first time transformed dance into a collective ritual to be lived out in a fantasy world made of lights, sounds, and colors. Shining a light on legendary places such as New York’s Electric Circus, which also influenced European clubs, including the Space Electronic in Florence (1969) one of the discos born from the collaboration with the figureheads of Italian Radical Architecture. Among these was also the Piper (1966) in Turin, that with its modular furniture not only created dance spaces but could be reconfigured for concerts, happenings, and experimental theater. Bamba Issa (1969), a Tuscan disco on the beach of Forte dei Marmi, here the whole interior served as a stage.

In the seventies, with the rise of disco music, club culture took on a new life. The dancefloor became a stage for individual and collective performances, with fashion designers like Stephen Burrows or Halston providing the right clothes for a sparkling style. Studio 54, opened in New York by Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell in 1977 became a meeting place for the idols of the cult of celebrities which was just taking its first infant steps at the time. Only two years later, the film Saturday Night Fever marked the culmination of the commercialization of the disco movement. It should be remembered, however, that the soul of disco music was not mainstream, it was born in clubs and bars frequented by the LGBTQ community and minorities that were marginalized by the white and heterosexual majority. Not by chance, did counter-movements like the Disco Demolition Night in Chicago (1979) give voice to reactionary tendencies, in part characterized by homophobia and racism. Simultaneously, discos like the Mudd Club (1978) or the Area (1978) in New York, offered new opportunities for young emerging artists. It was in these scenes that the likes of Keith Haring and Michel Basquiat began their rise.

While in London clubs like Blitz and Taboo, with the New Romantics, a new music style and fashion were born, where among the most loyal customers were designers like Vivienne Westwood. In Manchester architect and designer Ben Kelly designed a cathedral of the post-industrial rave, the Haçienda (1982), co-financed, among other things, by the British band New Order's album sales without them even knowing. Fueled by the rising wave of ecstasy use, acid house, was born and set to conquer the British sound and instigated the dawn of rave culture. House and techno, which was born in the clubs of Chicago and Detroit, can be referred to as the last two major dance music movements to have characterized an entire generation of clubs and ravers. The same also applies to the Berlin scene of the early 1990s, where clubs like Tresor (1991) gave new life to abandoned and deteriorated spaces, discovered after the fall of the wall. The legendary Berghain club, which opened its doors in 2004 in an old thermoelectric power station, also showed that a club scene can breath new life into disused urban spaces.

Since the 2000s, the development of club culture has become more complex. On the one hand, its continuous expansion, appropriated by the commercialization of global music brands and festivals, has caused many underground clubs to be pushed out of urban contexts or survive only as sad monuments of a hedonistic age gone by while ushering in a new age and different age of the clubland.

The exhibition will include a light installation, a silent disc that catapults visitors into the eventful history of club culture. And a select collection of record covers, including drawings by Peter Saville for Factory Records, underlining the important relationships between music and graphics in the history of clubs from 1960 to this day.


Night Fever. Designing Club Culture from 1960 to Today runs from June 7th to October 6th, 2019 at the Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Tuscany  Viale della Repubblica 277, 59100, Prato.