‘Meet Me In The Bathroom’ Art Show Recaptures NYC’s DIY Rock Scene

By David Chiu

Before they became truly gentrified with luxury apartment buildings, niche shops and fancy eateries, once-gritty New York City neighborhoods like Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, and Manhattan’s Lower East Side hosted a thriving and creative DIY music scene between the late 1990s and the early 2000s. It was a period when scrappy indie acts put New York rock and roll on the map once again, reminiscent of the city’s late 1970s downtown punk scene. On any given night in the Big Apple, some of the most electrifying live musical performances took place in out-of-the-way grunge-y dives and performance spaces. Such acts as Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes, Interpol, Fischerspooner, LCD Soundsystem, and TV on the Radio attracted media attention and landed record deals, filling a void left by ‘90s grunge and alternative rock.

Author Lizzy Goodman documented that musical period in her critically-acclaimed 2017 oral history book, Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011. Now she has revived the era again— this time in the form of the exhibit Meet Me in the Bathroom: The Art Show, which recently opened at The Hole gallery in New York City. Co-curated by Goodman and Hala Matar, the exhibit, which opened last week, contains over 70 pieces of art, photos, and other memorabilia to serve as a sort of visual companion to Goodman’s book.

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“Having gone to see very early Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Interpol shows,” she once said in 2017, “and having been in college when all those bands were coming up, it sort of felt like my own story as a journalist and a young person in New York City who was there. It was like ‘Okay, this is a chunk of time. This is a decade.’ It’s 2011, and I’m standing here watching these bands that I used to see play in rehearsal spaces [and now] the Strokes are playing Madison Square Garden. This is the period of time that a full story has happened in, and so I’m going to try to capture that.”

Situated in the Bowery across the street from where the famed ‘70s punk club CBGB once stood, the show is a homage to the New York music and art scenes during the 2000s in their gritty and exuberant splendor; there are even recreations of dirty bathroom stalls (designed by the event production company AMP) that one would find inside a downtown rock club from the period—adorned with photos by Spike Jonze and a sculpture by Rob Pruitt. On the walls are enlarged album covers of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz (by Urs Fischer) and the Strokes’ Is This It (by Colin Lane). Also on display are dresses designed by Christian Joy that were worn by Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O. Another section of the gallery highlight numerous photos and music magazine covers featuring some of the aforementioned artists—proof that the revived New York rock scene at the time was a real thing and not a fad.

Several band members themselves contributed objects to the show – among them are microphones from Karen O., and a guitar by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek. Artworks by other musicians such as Interpol’s Paul Banks, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner, and the Kills’ Alison Mosshart join alongside pieces by artists including Rita Ackerman, Nate Lowman, and Dan Colen.

Coinciding with the exhibit are a number of events scheduled at The Hole, including an upcoming talk featuring Goodman, the Moldy Peaches’ Adam Green, and music journalist Jenny Eliscu on September 17. Most recently, the gallery hosted a performance by CRX, a band fronted by the Strokes’ Nick Valensi.

What Goodman said in 2017 about her book could possibly apply to the aim of this art show: “I think for people who are reading the book right now and who know this era, the most gratifying thing is that it brings them back to this period of time. For those who were there, I hope it feels familiar in a nice, positive way. And for those who weren’t, it gives them a sense of participation in this really amazing time that has passed, but is still also influencing the culture we are living in. If people who didn’t know it start to feel it, and people who did know it feel it again, then that’s victory.”

‘Meet Me in the Bathroom: The Art Show,’ co-curated by Lizzy Goodman and Hala Matar, will run through September 22 at The Hole gallery in New York City.