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"The 602 in the Sixties" Exhibition by John Riggs

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The artist states, "Madison in the 1960's was a Midwest way station between San Francisco, Berkeley and Greenwich Village for a tidal wave of rebellion and cultural evolution.

The 602 Club had become by then the watering hole for artists, activists, literati, intellectuals, and a mixed bag of scholars and misfits from all disciplines.  It was also one of the early public gathering spots on Friday and Saturday nights for the gay community of Madison, and the University Art Department faculty meetings generally ended up there as well.  It was an exhilarating scene--the characters were iconoclastic, the mood rowdy, and the conversation heady.  Proclamations rang out, and the closer to closing time, the grander (and louder) they became.

I tended bar there during my undergraduate years, very early in my photographic career.  While serving schooners, mixing drinks and making change, I was shooting with a 35mm Nikon SP in what little there was of available light.  I was twenty-two, ignorant, arrogant, idealistic, and ambitious.  And along with most everyone else, drinking way too much.  Just home from two years in France and Germany studying French and German literature and philosophy, I was enchanted by the diversity of people and the sophistication of wit and language on all sides.  It was this enchantment that stimulated me to record the raw power of the personalities, the physical beauty of the people, and the exotic ambiance of the 602 Club.  This exhibit is my record of that time and place."

This exhibit offers rare interior images of a Wisconsin bar during this era. It also offers a window into a pre-Stonewall Midwestern gay gathering place. During the 1950s and 60s, The 602 Club was one of the few public places LGBTQ folk were welcomed to gather in Madison. To date, we do not have a similar photographic record of any other Madison LGBTQ meeting place during the 1950s & 60s.

This exhibition is presented by the Wisconsin Union Directorate Art Committee and generously supported by the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Letters and Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives, Madison LGBTQ Archive, the Madison Reunion, the Conference On Madison In The Sixties, Tamarack Studio and Gallery, and University Housing.

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