Joey Arias is a performance artist, cabaret singer, and drag artist, whose collected archive spans a singular career from the 1970s to present day. From his 1979 appearance with Klaus Nomi as David Bowie’s backup performer on Saturday Night Live to his 2011 surrealist puppet show with puppeteer Basil Twist titled “Arias with a Twist”, Arias’ life and work is not easily encapsulated into a linear narrative or singular descriptor.
The Joey Arias Archive collects documentation from every stage of his career and his many forms of performance. The archive documents his youth in Los Angeles playing in punk bands, his education in the Groundlings in the 1970s, and his move to New York with friend Kim Hastreiter later in the decade. Moving into the 1980s, the archive traces Arias working by day at iconic New York boutique Fiorucci while performing and holding court at Club 57 with the likes of Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Ann Magnuson by night. Arias’ story continues into the 1990s as he turned to cabaret, channeling the vocal stylings and mannerisms of Billie Holiday and performing regularly with Sherry Vine and others at downtown lounges such as Bar d’O. In 2003, Arias took on the role of the Mistress of Ceremonies in a six-year run of Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity. Still performing and touring today, Arias remains a masterful creative force. The archive documents all of these milestones in Arias’ career with holograph manuscript, business records, flyers and handbills, and an extremely extensive photography collection, spanning thousands of photographs of hundreds of performances, friends, collaborators, and designers.