“Bartsch picked up where Warhol left off.” — RuPaul
History is made at night. In her capacity as party-throwing club-kid den mother and AIDS fundraiser par excellence, Susanne Bartsch provided a sanctuary of free expression for those pushed to society’s margins while engaging in what Ingrid Sischy called “the most serious political action of our time.”
Sischy was referring to the 1989 Love Ball at Roseland, a Design Industry Foundation for AIDS event that brought Harlem’s vogue balls to midtown Manhattan, introduced Madonna to the uptown cultural practice, and raised $400,000 to help fight the disease that was decimating Bartsch’s circle.
Prior to hosting events in clubs all over town, Bartsch was the proprietor of the eponymous SoHo boutique that was the first in town to import the clothes of Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano. As one of the most imaginative exemplars of sartorial self-adornment of the last half-century, Bartsch was honored with a 2015 Fashion Institute of Technology exhibition Fashion Underground—The World of Susanne Bartsch.
The riveting documentary SUSANNE BARTSCH—ON TOP (directed by Anthony Caronna and Alexander Smith) brings this only-in-New York story to the screen with new interviews, extensive documentary footage, and home movies of Bartsch’s family life at the Chelsea Hotel.
Bartsch—whose personal aesthetic and Swiss accent recall a Dada/Weimar-era ballet mécanique—was the leader of a very fast pack, and this cinematic tribute is a moving critique of gender norms and an inspiration for boundary-breakers everywhere.
Through September 13.
Monica Film Center, 1332 2nd Street, Santa Monica.
VOD release on September 11.
See: New York is Burning
Top: Susanne Bartsch (right) and RuPaul at the opening of Fashion Underground—The World of Susanne Bartsch.
Above: Bartsch and her husband, fitness entrepreneur David Barton.
Below: Bartsch applying an eyepiece. Image credit: The Orchard.