Strip club meets high art: ‘Camera night at the Ivar’ gets new life downtown

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photo: Bill Counter

photo: Bill Counter

The Ivar Theater began its life as a legit venue in Hollywood in 1951; the first show that played there was a decidedly chaste The Barretts of Wimpole Street.  Over time, it morphed (don’t we all?).  The Dead played there in ’66

David Fahey, 1986

(here’s the set) and so did Lenny Bruce.  Tom Waits sang about it.  Elvis purportedly shot a film there.

Then it became a burlesque palace, which of course is a fancy way of saying strip club.  It wasn’t sexy as much as it was sad; someone said of the place that it was “a chamber of desperation, a mausoleum for souls — on and off the runway.” Perhaps as evidence of that, two nights a week, camera-wielding visitors who paid the cover charge were permitted to take photographs of the women of Ivar.

Ivar ad from 1977. Picture credit Ross MacLean

This weekend at the drkrm gallery downtown, the debut of the very first show gathering up those photographs.  As the gallery’s materials describe it, what you’ll see is an insight into voyeurism we rarely get to witness: “In that split second of the camera’s flash, we can see the men in the audience, their facial expressions, how they’re sitting, where they’re looking or not looking. This exhibit is as much about the relationship between the women on stage and the men in the audience as it is about the actual image and the photographers who took them.”Opens Saturday, Oct. 20 through Nov. 25