On Friday night, an exhibition-themed party brought alumni of the Fire Island residency back together, in the middle of Times Square

“It’s New York. Everyone’s tired, and everyone’s slaying.” A new acquaintance looked out over the patio of the Times Square EDITION in wistful contentment. Spring seemed to be coming early, and the velocity of Friday night’s rain was visible in the blaring light of the digital billboards that illuminate 7th Avenue. Behind us, the wood-paneled room was packed with familiar faces, iconic figures, and a woman wielding a leather riding crop in lieu of a purse.

Despite the inclement weather, a critical mass of BOFFO besties gathered for Group Show: A Retrospective. Admittedly, many were confused by their invitation; its ardent urge to RSVP was complete with a curatorial press release, suggesting that the work of over 300 artists would be on display. In actuality, it was the artists themselves that BOFFO hoped to feature. The exhibition-themed party sought to “explore themes of reunion, crossing paths, and having fun,” nodding to the nonprofit organization’s devil-may-care disposition when it comes to showing artists a good time. Perhaps the curatorial language fell on the same deaf ears turned to most exhibition wall text: Many simply didn’t read it. Even through the confusion, attendees moved with anticipation toward this one-of-a-kind event. Based primarily on Fire Island over the course of its summer-long artist residency and annual performance festival, BOFFO made its return to dry land with an invite-only gathering of artists, collaborators, and friends, spanning its 12-year lifespan in the Pines.

Artists arrived, somewhat relieved by the absence of any actual work on display. I bumped into one who told me, “For the past week, people have been saying they’re so excited to see my piece in the show. Like, no girl—it’s just a party!” Whether or not anyone knew what they were getting into, Group Show’s mystique preceded itself. In typical BOFFO fashion, the art world was simultaneously enamored and befuddled: “I was talking to some members of Young Boy Dancing Group, and we were like… Are we in a show?’ We all believed it at one point.”

Left: Arewá Basit.

The party was a performative installation, and every person was a crucial part of it.

Artists meandered between the bar and an excess of Chesterfield sofas. The room had a distinctly anachronistic tinge to it: Time Square’s daylight-bright glare hit the oaken walls brazenly, casting the party in postmodern twilight. It was like a speakeasy straight out of Blade Runner. Each moment was as bewildering as it was enchanting, mundane actions caustically suffixed with …in Times Square! and a guilty laugh. No one truly got over the novelty of willfully making the trek to the one part of town everyone seems to avoid. It was an ironic embrace of that New York City fantasy, often clung to at arm’s length. Two people could be overheard on the patio, belting concrete jungle wet dream tomato, in the way we all secretly want to sing it.

Community icon and meme queen Patia Borja moved sweetly behind the DJ booth. The gestalt of her cult following was echoed in the anthemic beats pulsing through the ceiling speakers. Past residents embraced festival performers; artists from BOFFO’s early years reintroduced themselves to the scene; DJs that had maneuvered the same set of sandy CDJs kindly made one another’s acquaintance. Writer Brontez Purnell made an early appearance, coming straight from a day-long gala rehearsal with energy to spare. Photographer Lola Flash beamed in the afterglow of their opening at the Leslie-Lohman Museum. Visual artist and performer Tony Cox reminded everyone that he was, in fact, a BOFFO artist-in-residence—10 years ago.

Crayton Robey, Steven Miller, and Faris Saad Al-Shathir.

It was a family reunion in the deepest sense for alumni of the arts organization. BOFFO remains unique in that its creative endeavors continue to be informed by the practitioners that have entered and exited its hallowed hole. In the din of laughter and renewed recognition, it’s clear that each artist’s impact is felt long after their ferry leaves the harbor. At midnight, DJ and notable party pioneer LYDO took to the decks, effortlessly spinning pitch-perfect energy into the spiraling crowd as the room overflowed. Luckily, BOFFO-branded coasters sopped up any spillage in the joyous chaos.

“I feel like everyone got here, saw the word curator on the drink menu, and realized the whole thing was a concept.”

The bar’s slapstick offerings characterized the crowd aptly. An anxious art advisor paced the floor to make nice with the scene’s freshest faces, sipping a vodka concoction known as the Studio Sleaze. A performance artist reminded BOFFO Director Faris Al-Shathir of a particularly messy weekend in the 2010s. He didn’t seem to remember at first, but after finishing his Fire Island Flashback, it all came back to him. And maybe it’s best not to expound upon the fruity mixture lovingly dubbed the Co-Dependent Curator.

The Flashback was the most popular drink of the night, indicating a theme that permeated many of the conversations that draped over the lounge air. BOFFO’s Group Show was a retrospective in its own right, carrying fond memories of Fire Island—both long-lost and willfully forgotten—into captivity, while fostering new bonds across distant nodes in the experimental residency’s artistic community.

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