As I entered the hot, art-object crowded confines of the Rogallery.com / Auction House in Long Island City, I imagined the sound of a long “Greetiiiiiings” behind me. This salutation was the signature sound that coupled with a crooked grin, sparkling eyes behind unfashionable glasses and long stringy hair with matching beard that each of his friends recognized as coming from one of the 80’s most beloved art world characters, furry car and performance artist Stephen “Hoop” Hooper.
Hovering above, a Towers Productions film crew documented the action for a Fox Business Channel series entitled “Strange Inheritance” with Jamie Colby produced by Stacy Robinson to be broadcast next Thursday April 13 at 9 pm..
The event at the Rogallery was the selling off of the celebrity art collection that Hoop inherited from Baird Jones. Baird, was a gossip reporter and club promoter who hosted thousands of parties at nightclubs and galleries in the 80’s and 90’s. A Groton and Columbia graduate with a trail of degrees (BA, JD, MSW, MA) in tow, Baird was a strange mix of WASP manners and propriety tinged with a decadent and sardonic destructiveness.
I first met Baird at East Village openings where he took photographs that fed his paparazzi-type column for the arts and entertainment newspaper Downtown. At the time, I was living in newly developed artist housing; a renovated silk mill in Paterson, New Jersey’s Historic District. Together we cooked up the scheme to use museums to exhibit contemporary art mixed with his own collection beginning with the Paterson Museum. The results were shows such as New Perspectives in Modern Art and The Best of the East Villages Comes to the Nassau County Museum. Baird would hang an exhibition wherever there was an empty wall including the museum’s bathrooms. He wrote two books: one on the psychology of jokes and another entitled Mark Kostabi and the East Village Scene 1983-1987 that was chock full of his photos of Kostabi’s early years.
The auction was held with the cooperation of Hoop’s brother who inherited it all after Hoop’s passing in 2011. The collection included art assembled by Baird’s father Cranston Jones, a writer and editor with Time and People magazines. The collection featured, among others, people like Miles Davis, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller and Nina Simone. Baird expanded this collection to include many others such as Dee Dee Ramone, Muhammad Ali, Tony Bennett, Louise Bourgeois and David Bowie exhibiting it at numerous club venues throughout the City that included Tunnel, China Club, MK, Club Paradise, Baja, the Roxy, Red Zone and Webster Hall.
The elite etching and the 10-second ballpoint pen sketch on a bar napkin were all shown as equals in the environment of Baird Jones’ free vodka (speed rack brand) and food (a block of cheese and a box of saltines) parties that drew large crowds fueled by his press relationships with all of the NY columnists including Richard Johnson, Cindy Adams, Liz Smith and Rush & Molloy,
My most personal recollections were nights spent at Baird Jones parties at Tunnel in the Chandelier and VIP rooms with celebrities such as Warhol Superstars Taylor Mead and UltraViolet, Twin Peaks’ Little Mike Anderson (sitting inappropriately on my girlfriend’s lap), Tiny Tim, Malcolm Forbes and Leroy Neiman. One night at Club Paradise on Waverly Place, Hoop stuck his head through a tablecloth on a dinner table in performance while Phil Spector and others munched on turkey sandwiches as they held conversations with the friendly centerpiece.
It was never about Art for Baird. It was about celebrity, the celebrity of the collection’s artists, the celebrity crowd he drew on a nightly basis and ultimately his own celebrity. Through it all there was Hoop, Baird’s favorite artist and best friend, performing in one outrageous costume after another, exhibiting his fur and day-glo spray paint covered cars outside each venue, greeting the crowd and gathering the art from the walls in the early light of New York City mornings to return it to Baird’s storage for exhibition another day.
So there I was sitting again on a couch looking at images from Baird’s collection, only now they were streamed onto a screen as lots for the bidding. I was transported back to the Tunnel’s Chandelier Room with Finch, Nebraska, Ens, Eins, Vee, Slitkin and many others from the past. New and old friends were there in real time including AOT Executive Director Douglas Turner, Paul Klee scholar Sara Lynn Henry, Baird party goer and journalist Marianne Macy as well as artist friends and fellow Charlie Finch Creative Team members Craig Watson, Erick Pierce, Melinda Hackett and Michael Drury who all bought pieces. Having had my fill of yesterday, I left the auction before its conclusion. Stepping into the steamy Long Island City summer afternoon, I was temporarily blinded by the sun and thought I saw a fur-covered Rolls Royce idling across the street, its driver waiting patiently for this final event to end.