10 Offbeat Artists Who Are Keeping the Old, Weird New York Alive

You moved to New York City for a reason — the culture, the 24-hour bodegas, the street meat, the crazies, the art — and the weirdness that makes New York, New York. Despite the influx of luxury towers and khaki-pantsed nerds, these artists keep on keeping weird, helping to make New York one of the most awesome places on Earth. 

Photo credit: Jonathan Grassi

Breedlove

One Monday a month, Breedlove takes over Tammany Hall on Orchard Street for his rock ‘n’ roll party, Magic Monday. Only in New York can a Monday be the wildest night of the week, and only in New York can a mulleted man in a sweater vest and tweed jacket belt out songs into a rotary phone to a recording, while standing on a bar as dozens of onlookers sing along. Breedlove (and his fans/friends) mesh low-budget cabaret with over the-top-fashion and non-judgmental fun, echoing the democratic party scene of the 1970s’ and ’80s’ most legendary clubs, where queens danced with Wall Street dudes and celebrities mingled with club kids and people from Jersey.

Anna Copa Cabanna

Anna Copa Cabanna can be found go-go dancing (’60s style) any given night of the week in a variety of bars, but that’s only while she’s working on her next big show. The Anna Copa Cabanna Show is a throwback to 1970s variety shows like Sonny and Cher’s, or Donny and Marie’s. Rainbow costumes, glittery props, and a cast of co-ed dancers accompany the blonde-wigged Australian as she sings her sugary sweet original songs. Nowhere else would a watching girl dressed in a sexy Kermit the Frog leotard command a drink minimum.

 

Kenny Scharf

Many of us can only imagine what the downtown scene was like in ’80s NYC, carefully studying films like Downtown 81 or Slaves of New York. But Kenny Scharf was part of the lifeblood of that scene, and sadly remains one of its only survivors. Roommate to Keith Haring and friend of Warhol, Basquiat, and the like, Scharf is still producing candy-colored art work, and still keeps things weird at his occasional neon black light parties. The artist has decked out his studio, Cosmic Cavern, from floor to ceiling with neon toys, mobiles, murals, and sculptures. Guests are required to dress in dayglo, and get their faces painted with neon tempera by the artist himself upon entry.

Kembra Pfahler

Painted purple, red, or blue, Kembra Pfahler’s vagina is as well known as her giant black wig. The multimedia and performance artist has been a New York fixture since the ’80s, before being noticed by Deitch Projects — and continues to reign supreme with her identically painted entourage at The Hole. Pfahler has been known to crack eggs full of  black paint on her vulva while performing with her rock ‘n’ band the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, which was formed in 1990. Extra points for cool kin — her brother is none other than Adam Pfahler, the drummer of Jawbreaker.

David LaChapelle

David LaChapelle’s hyper-colored celebrity photos changed fashion and fine art photographer forever, with oodles of copycats ripping off his oversaturated palette and over the top scenarios. Having returned to fine art after a decade-long career in commercial photography, LaChapelle — and his new, finely sculpted plastic face — is often found on the arm of the world’s most fabulous transsexual, Amanda Lepore, who may or may not be clothed.

CHERYL

Arty party collective CHERYL claim they are the dance party that will ruin your life. Do you like glitter? Blood? The Bubonic Plague? Fake vomit? Then you need to get your ass to a CHERYL party. Taking over The Bell House, arty party spaces, MoMA, galleries, and the like, Nick Schiarizzi, Stina Puotinen, Sarah Van Buren, and Destiny Pierce bring the performance art to the people, demanding their party-goers bring out their own inner artist with themed costumes, and above all choosing ridiculous fun over vanity.

Bill Cunningham

In most cities, 83-year-olds can be found around the shuffleboard court, but not New Yorkers. He may be 83, but photographer Bill Cunningham is still riding his bike around New York City taking pictures of the inspiring people that populate it. For more than 45 years he’s been capturing the art, fashion, and cultural world of New York for the Times — and he spent most of those decades living in a tiny, kitchenless room above Carnegie Hall, like any good New Yorker would.

Yoko Ono

Last year, Ono got a group of people (including this writer) to trudge into the Law & Order: SVU woods in Central Park before sunrise, to play a “note on an instrument” along with her in unison (yep, I did that). Ono never showed up, but the point is the obscure artist had the power to pull a bunch of arty types out of bed and into an area known for its array of used condoms. Why? Who knows. After all these years, she may not make sense to us, but somehow we still love her weirdness — and even her crotch-grab-print Opening Ceremony pants.

Terence Koh

He dresses in all white, glues pearls to Lady Gaga, and gold plated his poop before affixing it with a $500,000 price tag. Whether he’s crawling on the floor around a 24-foot pile of salt or dancing like a Rodin sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum, Koh can be counted on to upstage anyone in white fur and feathers.

Bernd Naber

Chances are, you’ve probably seen or danced with Bernd Naber at some art event or another. The white-specked, white-haired artist is ubiquitous, either in one of his signature white trench coats or cruising the East Village in his sanded-down giant boat of a convertible. The German installation artist has made it to virtually every art happening since he moved here from Hamburg in 1975.