There’s nothing shocking about original Club Kid and convicted killer Michael Alig joining the ranks of semi-famous people who call themselves artists. I can’t think of a more fitting scene for Alig than the art world: it’s self-absorbed, trivial, patronizing and, in so many ways, amoral — kind of like Alig. And yet, seeing his somewhat alluring art on display at a New York exhibition is jarring.
Alig, of course, is the real-life Party Monster who, along with Robert “Freeze” Riggs, killed and dismembered fellow Club Kid Andre “Angel” Melendez in 1996. Alig threw the corpse into the Hudson River. He bragged about the killing for months before being arrested, and then served 17 years in jail. He was released in May 2014 with a whirlwind of press, claiming to have done several interviews a day.
So, when Monarch Projects reached out and asked us if ANIMAL wanted to interview Alig about the body of artwork that he created while in prison and would be exhibiting for the first time to the public, we were conflicted. Alig story’s has been told ad nauseum and what more really can be said about him? There’s so many talented artists out there, why should we waste any bandwidth on him?
But Alig, for better or worse, has become embedded in New York’s arts and nightlife scene, and even his critics will always continue to look for signs of guilt, remorse, or justification of his crime in his future work. Like them, perhaps naively, we wanted to know how Alig perceived his paintings and how art-goers would receive them.
It was surprising to see how many supporters Alig, still beloved among the Club Kids community, has. “He’s got an insight into popular culture,” said art performer and writer Gerry Visco at the Select Art Fair, where Alig debuted his works via the Monarch Project. “I feel like Michael is working hard and he’s a work in progress. But I feel like he’s on the right track.”
“Sometimes people criticize his artwork ‘cause they don’t like him. And I think it’s bullshit,” she added.
We interviewed Alig ahead of the show’s Wednesday night premiere, at a modest apartment he’s renting in the Bronx. He pulled out dozens of canvasses in his bedroom, all painted during his prison term. Marilyn Manson, a long-time friend, is a fan and has already purchased two, according to Alig. “He was a club kid at Disco 2000 when his name was Brian,” Alig recalls. “He was a goth kid at the time and not really one of the fabulous people at Disco 2000. But he says we treated him like a celebrity and we treated him in a way that made him feel important and that gave him self confidence to become Marilyn Manson.” He showed us the paintings the rocker was reportedly buying. One of them featured a Mickey Mouse with a swastika background, and the other was a critical portrait of Hitler. The latter is part of a series of anti-gay world leaders that Alig says he painted and masturbated on. “My cum is right there on his chin,” said Alig, pointing to a discolored splotch on the canvas.
His paintings are better than we expected. They put Alig’s perverse, zero-fucks spin on pop cultural images that somehow maintain an innocence despite their obvious darkness. “I realized the paintings were sort of, like everything else I’ve done, like Disco 2000, Project X the magazine I published, or like the Club Kids themselves,” says Alig. “There’s a side of it that’s very innocent and naive and cute and sweet and charming, and then there’s another side of it, that’s a little bit sinister and dark and creepy and scary… kind of like a Pee-wee Herman grin, it’s a little bit of both. You don’t know if it’s innocent or creepy.”
Alig hasn’t painted much since he got out of jail, which was odd. If he’s serious about his new profession, why hasn’t he continued creating art? It’s hard not to wonder if his interest in painting was tied to the publicity it offered when connected to his prison sentence. Or maybe he’s just onto other things, now. Alig says he has plans for nightclubs, for books, for screenplays and reality shows. He does a webcast with original Club Kid and bestie Ernie Glam. He’s releasing a clothing line.
As he swoons about Party Monster, calling it the “Rocky Horror Picture Show of its generation,” and discusses Melendez’s horrific death without flinching, one wonders: Is his casual talk of killing Angel a byproduct of him being a sociopath, or a simply a result of him retelling the story so many times? At this point, it’s almost like a spiel: Hello, I’m Michael Alig. I’m famous because I went to a lot of raves in the 1990s and killed someone. They even made a movie about me and now here I am.
Because of Alig’s near-scripted responses, perhaps the best place to look for redemption or remorse is in his actions. It’s reminiscent of what journalist Michael Musto so eloquently stated in his open letter to Alig upon his release, “You served your time and you’re now free to pursue honest, ethical actions as a citizen of the world. I just hope you approach that seriously and soberly, especially since you blamed your messy behavior on all the drugs you’d taken. So raise a glass of cranberry juice and be grateful you’re alive. Not everyone is around to say that.”
By that measure, we will have to wait until Alig’s parole — which requires anger management sessions and drug counseling — is up. “My honesty scares them at my drug program,” he says. “I’m kind of counting the days until my parole is over and then I’m planning on doing ecstasy and having a party.” In an interview with the New York Times upon his release, Alig blamed the brutal slaying (mostly) on his drug addiction. Now he says, “Their argument of course is that I committed an awful crime while I was on drugs. But ecstasy didn’t do that. You can’t really just blame it on the drugs. No one meant him for to die. Have you ever been on Special K? You can see how you can misjudge the length of time you’re sitting on somebody or the strength you’re choking somebody or whatever.”
So, is Michael Alig remorseful? If he is, you won’t see that in his art. “It would be in really poor taste for my artwork to show remorse,” he says. “It would seem extremely manipulative, and I would think transparent, and trite, and disgusting.”
(Video/Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)