Patti Smith Fans Storm Mapplethorpe Opening

Patti Smith Fans Storm Mapplethorpe Opening
The Alison Jacques Gallery could have found no better way to drum up interest for its exhibition of photographs by the late Robert Mapplethorpe than to host a performance by Patti Smith: songstress, poet, onetime Mapplethorpe muse, and all-around cultural icon. The problem was, the event last night generated a little too much interest. By 5:45, 15 minutes before Smith was to go on, a line of her fans stretched a full block from the gallery’s Berners Street address, and no sooner had the gallery thrown open its doors than more of them arrived, and streamed in, until the two rooms were packed and stifling, becoming an inadvertent play on the exhibition’s Rimbaud-derived title, “A Season in Hell.” One gallery-goer was seen fleeing, tossing over her shoulder the remark, “If you want to get hot, definitely go in there.”

Smith, however, was more than game for the mob scene. Before beginning her set, the singer casually stepped outside the gallery and addressed the mass of fans unable to get in. “I can’t get inside,” she joked. “There’s too many people. You don’t have to see me, because I’m not that beautiful, but you’ll be able to hear me. We have a really good sound system.”

Smith then descended the gallery’s steps and waded into the sea of people filling Berners Street, shaking hands and striking up conversations. From afar, she was the spitting image of a glad-handing politician; up close, with her signature ratty hair, rumpled attire, scratchy voice, and modest words, she was anything but. “When I’m done in there, I’ll come out here and sing a cappella,” she promised one group of fans, adding, “But you have to do it too, or I’ll be embarrassed.”

At one point, Smith was approached by a journalist, who asked her why she’d chosen to venture into the throngs outside. “I was so happy to see so many people interested in Robert’s work,” the singer said. “So I came outside to say hello.” The journalist then asked her something partly inaudible, having to do with famous people. Smith gave her a wry look. “I’m just glad so many people showed up. I’ll let you know if I see anyone famous.”

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