NGV announces the Bowery Ball, a late-night queer party celebrating Leigh Bowery’s legacy

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NGV announces the Bowery Ball, a late-night queer party celebrating Leigh Bowery’s legacy

Words by Staff Writer

‘Dress as though your life depends on it or don’t bother.’ — Leigh Bowery

In a dazzling fusion of drag, burlesque, voguing, music, and performance art, the Bowery Ball is set to take centre stage at NGV International on Friday, 22 March 2024. This late-night queer party is a vibrant celebration of Melbourne-born iconoclast Leigh Bowery, a renowned performance artist, fashion designer, and nightclub impresario of the twentieth century.

Honouring the buoyant self-expression of Victoria’s LGBTIQA+ community, the Bowery Ball promises a night of captivating performances by some of Australia’s most talented contemporary artists. The lineup includes Logie-nominated drag diva Art Simone, award-winning burlesque “supervillain” Ruby Slippers, jazz pianist virtuoso Rosie Rai, and the drag king alter-egos of Danni Ray and Keely Windred, Dazza and Keif.

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Transforming the entire ground floor of NGV International into a utopia of queer art, music, and performance, the Great Hall will serve as the beating heart of the event. Mainstage performances, featuring nightclub host and costumier Bettie Rosé, multi-award-winning sideshow artist Elle Diablo, and more, will extend late into the evening.

The NGV Garden Restaurant will metamorphose into a swanky piano bar, hosting intimate performances and storytelling. Throughout the evening, guests will be treated to acts by NAIDOC Pride Award-winner 2Joocee, Krayola, and more.

Coinciding with the NGV Triennial, the Bowery Ball will offer tongue-in-cheek tours of the exhibition by night’s performers, including Granny Bingo stalwarts Edith Vale (Thomas Jaspers), Maureen McGillicuddy (Kyle Minall), and Caroline Springs (Scott Brennan), along with drag superstars Lazy Susan, Zelda Moon, and Art Simone.

Embracing Bowery’s iconic style and boundary-pushing fashion, the dress code encourages guests to create looks that honour the legendary designer. Attendees can showcase their outfits on the Waterwall’s pink carpet and media wall.

Throughout the night, guests can indulge in Pommery Champagne and partake in all-inclusive food and beverages.

Bowery, the party honouree, hailed from Sunshine in Melbourne’s western suburbs before moving to London in 1980 at the age of 19 and quickly gained renown in the underground club scene with his performances that rejected conventions of identity, gender, and sexuality. In 1985, he opened Taboo nightclub in London’s Leicester Square. While it was not an exclusively queer venue, Taboo attracted a predominantly queer crowd, largely due to Bowery’s interest in experimental fashion and performance.

Simultaneously, his striking and larger-than-life designs attracted critical acclaim in the fashion industry and in international media. In 1990, Bowery art-directed and appeared in Boy George’s music video Generations of Love. Bowery went on to form two bands, Raw Sewage with Stella Stein and Sheila Tequila, and Minty with Richard Torry, Nicola Bateman, and Matthew Glamorre. Shortly after his marriage to Nicola Bateman, in 1994, Bowery died at the age of 33 from AIDS-related complications.

Bowery’s legacy lives on today, continuing to be sampled in art, fashion, and popular culture with designers including John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, and Vivien Westwood referencing his work in their collections, while his clubbing influence can be seen in contemporary club kid and drag culture across cities around the world.

American Express Card Members gain access to pre-sale tickets on 4 December. General sale tickets are available from 7 December via the NGV website.