Inside Aurel Schmidt’s art opening at Lucien with Chloë Sevigny

Inside Aurel Schmidt’s art opening at Lucien with Chloë Sevigny

“All of New York turned out for Aurel,” says Chloë Sevigny, pointing to a large crowd gathered outside Lucien, a restaurant on First Ave. and E. 1st St. that is practically a New York City institution. She refers to her old friend Aurel Smith, the artist behind Lucien’s first art exhibit, and the reason why all sorts of pests that are a restaurant’s worst nightmare can be found in the many photos of clients like Sevigny. and Fran Lebowitz in their yellow walls for the next week. The size and placement of the small illustrations are appropriately subtle for a place where you find, say, Timothée Chalamet hiding in a corner, or Julia Fox surrounded by friends like Jeremy O. Harris in a crowded booth. And while the spies who are sent to the celebrity gossip hub @deuxmoi are eager to take photos of the clientele, none of those who attended the opening posted photos from the night on the grid of him.

Since becoming the site where Kanye West gave Fox and his closest friends Birkins for their birthdays earlier this year, the restaurant has been appearing more and more in the mainstream. But for regulars like Sevigny and Smith, it still feels like a word New Yorkers often associate with Lucien: home. So it was only natural that Smith’s latest nude self-portraits would feature Lucien, as well as other scene hangouts like Paul’s Casablanca in New York and Chez Francis in Paris. They all hold a special place in the artist’s heart, but none more so than Lucien, who is just a block from where she lives. “I come here and have breakfast off the menu, I put my stuff away,” she says. “It’s just a home away from home.”

Courtesy of Aurel Schmidt

The nude blonde figure in each illustration “isn’t really an alter ego, she looks exactly like me,” says Schmidt. “The only thing ‘altered’ is that New York is altered.” He walks me through a taxonomy of the character’s seedy company: “The usual pests are my friends. Pigeons are always normal. Cockroaches are usually skaters, but they could be anyone. Rats, for which I usually have a little more feelings. Because even in your normal life, you see the rat and you think, meyuck! But you also say, oh, he’s kind of cute.”

Courtesy of Aurel Schmidt
Courtesy of Aurel Schmidt
Courtesy of Aurel Schmidt
Courtesy of Aurel Schmidt

If you didn’t know by now, cartoons aren’t for everyone. (The sample above is on the tame side.) One features a rat cunnilingus on Schmidt, and in another, Schmidt returns the favor. She seems particularly happy with her cockroaches, who take her for a ride in the sky and join her for dinner at Lucien’s. “His drawings of her are often so controlled and sleazy that you can see her just being free and really expressing herself,” says Sevigny, who remembers being initially bullied by Schmidt. “They’re a lot of fun, too. We love humor in art. There’s not enough of that.” She plans to “definitely” buy one of her drawings, which are priced at $1,000. (Schmidt has also collected them in an out-of-print book published by the Bunk Club.)

Schmidt says he has been pestering Lucien founder Lucien Bahaj’s son, Zac, to let him show his art there repeatedly since meeting him about a dozen years ago at Bahaj’s other restaurant, the Pink Pony. As for how he finally convinced him, Schmidt doesn’t have time to share: You have to mingle and, as Sevigny said, all of New York is here.

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