Madonna chain link fence Milk Studios NYC Untapped Cities
Photo by Laura Itzkowitz

In 1983, Madonna was an art school dropout who moved to New York City to try to jumpstart her dancing career. She lived in the East Village and paid her rent by doing odd jobs, like serving at the Russian Tea Room and nude art modeling. She did a brief stint as a showgirl in Paris, came back to New York and formed several bands before going solo in 1981. She was both rebellious and a perfectionist, with unrelenting ambition and drive.

That Madonna—the young, reckless performer on the cusp of fame—is the girl portrayed in Madonna NYC83 at Milk Studios in Chelsea. The photographs by renowned photographer Richard Corman tell the story of a girl who really doesn’t seem to care about what other people think. She’s not conventionally pretty, but she’s idiosyncratic.

Madonna NYC83 gallery view Milk Studios NYC Untapped Cities

“The first time Madonna introduced herself to Richard Corman, she served him bubble gum and an espresso on a silver tray. It was 1983 and they were meeting in her East Village apartment for a photo shoot,” the gallery’s website explains. Then, for several hours, the pair walked the streets of Manhattan as Madonna turned the most unexpected places into her own personal stage. Of course, the East Village has plenty of bohemian history. Allen Ginsberg lived and drank there; there were former speakeasies and concert venues. Madonna embodied the East Village of the ’80s.

Madonna on rooftop Milk Studios NYC Untapped Cities

Madonna in color by Richard Corman Milk Studios NYC Untapped Cities

In the middle of her shoot with Corman, Madonna saw an elderly group sitting on a bench in front of the American Nursing Home on the Lower East Side, and she slid right in between two old men. They were all speechless. There she was, looking right at home, and yet like she knew she was the star.

Madonna in front of nursing home by Richard Corman Milk Studios NYC Untapped Cities

Now, thirty years later, these photographs of a young Madonna posing in dilapidated East Village lots, up on rooftops and on a bench in front of a nursing home, have become relics of the City’s history. Perhaps that’s what’s so exciting about New York—the feeling that if you’re here and doing what you love, you might just be making history.

Madonna NYC83 Milk Studios NYC Untapped Cities

The show comprises over fifty photos by Richard Corman and two images painted over by Alec Monopoly. Originally set to run until December 15, the show has been extended until December 21.

Madonna by Alec Monopoly Milk Studios NYC Untapped Cities
Madonna NYC83 Milk Studios Chelsea NYC Untapped Cities

Get in touch with the author @lauraitzkowitz.