Sleaze as art: ‘Camera Night at the Ivar’ @ Drkrm Gallery 5

Dance · Theater · Visual arts

Hollywood’s Ivar Theatre — notorious, low-life, sleazy — presented crude peep shows, images of which I have interspersed in the slide show with ballet photography by renowned dance photog, Gene Schiavione. The images all feature the female body on explicit display. The Ivar strippers, and the men who clustered at the Hollywood theater to photograph them on “Camera Night,” are the subject of a gallery exhibit opening this weekend.

The Ivar nudie parades were a big draw for the lurid school of L.A.-noir photography. Gallerist John Matkowsky’s drkrm gallery exhibit includes prints by Bill Dane, Paul McDonough, Anthony Friedkin, as well as Garry Winogrand, the latter whose Ivar portraits have hung in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Ivar opened as a legitimate theater in 1951; it later became a rock club. In 1966 The Grateful Dead droned into the night there. Lennie Bruce worked the hallowed hall — not surprising. By the late ’60s it descended into a full-nudity strip joint — one of the last standing burlesque houses in the U.S. Stuck smack in central Hollywood it was an eyesore into the backyard of Paramount, Goldwyn and the former Columbia studios, where the girls hawking their wares were considered nice. A last bastion of the desperate female, a twenty-minute tour of the Ivar’s sordid stage was a quick route to copping money for dope. Cleaner than hooking, it fetched less than $10 in the late ’70s, according to Matkowsky.

So what’s the difference between the “Camera Night” photos and those of Schiavione? Ballerinas parade their bodies before audiences — but the intent and context differ. To my eye, the Ivar material, because it ropes in not just the performers but the audience as well, operates at a higher plane. The ballet photos, devoid of context, represent a purer objectification of the female body. For a pure exploitation I’d point to the ballet shots. But that doesn’t make the Ivar stuff easy to see.

Related interesting news from New York: In the coming months, the 92nd Street “Y,” the historic home to modern dance choreographers Martha Graham, Agnes de Mille, Doris Humphrey, Hanya Holm, Anna Sokolow, and Ruth St. Denis, is staging a four-part burlesque series, with tickets & info here.

  • Sat, Oct 27—The Bishop’s Choice and The New York School of Burlesque: Pink Light Burlesque
  • Sat, Dec 22—Hunk: All-Male Burlesque Review
  • Sat, Jan 12—Hot Geeks: A Nerd-lesque Review 
  • Sat, Feb 9—Burlesque is LOVE! 


Ryan Herz Ivar Theatre 1980
Bill Dane Ivar Theatre 1982
Gene Schiavione assorted Royal Ballet, Mariinsky Ballet photos

Camera Night at the Ivar | drkrm gallery | Spring Street gallery row | opens Oct 20, runs thru Nov 25

5 thoughts on “Sleaze as art: ‘Camera Night at the Ivar’ @ Drkrm Gallery

  1. Jay cee Sep 24,2017 5:01 am

    I dated one of the dancers here stage names was zumar her real first name was Gracela and older Mexican women. She was off stage very proper and eloquent on stage she was holding the eloquent but with the twist of the ivar burlesque

  2. debra levine Dec 13,2016 8:42 am

    Thank you for that fascinating comment, Mike.

  3. Mike Dec 12,2016 9:48 pm

    I Worked at the Ivar Theater as Projectionist in 75 and 76. Sometimes I Wonder what became of the Dancers I knew Lisa, Randi, Carla, Barbi, etc.. Not all the Women were Hookers a few were Real College Students and were Paid $7 for a 20min. Show Plus Tips they made. The Owner Lee Witten was Killed when he tried to Land his Helicopter On the Hollywood Frwy. after a Mechanical Problem and it Crashed. Camera Night sometimes got Interesting. Anyway it was a Interesting Place to Work in the 70s.

  4. Dana Ross Oct 27,2012 8:28 pm

    I’m adding my little bit about theater in Hollywood.
    Penn and Teller played at the Las Palmas Theater for years before they were well known. That’s how I was introduced to Yma Sumac, whose music they used before the show and during intermission.

  5. Larry Billman Oct 26,2012 3:11 am

    Having appeared at the Ivar Theatre in “The Boyfriend” and “Vintage ’60,” I want to flesh out your words about “later it became a rock club.” There was a time when little theaters flourished in Hollywood (the Las Palmas and Ivar)and West Hollywood (Civic Playhouse, Players Ring)presenting quality theater and giving budding performers the opportunity to be seen by the film and TV industry. I saw “Second City” at the Ivar and multiple “Billy Barnes Revues” at the Las Palmas (which introduced Ken Berry, Bert Convy, Joanne Worley). It was only when the complexion and culture of Hollywood Blvd. changed in the mid ’60s that those valuable venues went the way of all flesh. After the strippers left the Ivar, it became a children’s theater. The Ivar has had many faces. And many ghosts.

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