“All of New York turned out for Aurel,” Chloë Sevigny says, gesturing at a large crowd gathered outside of Lucien, a restaurant on First Ave. and E. 1st St. that’s practically a New York City institution. She’s referring to her longtime friend Aurel Schmidt, the artist behind Lucien’s first-ever art show—and the reason why all sorts of pests that are a restaurant’s worst nightmare can be found peppered throughout the many photos of clientele like Sevigny and Fran Lebowitz on its yellow walls for the next week. The size and placement of the small illustrations are fittingly subtle for a place where you reliably find, say, Timothée Chalamet tucked away in a corner, or Julia Fox surrounded by pals like Jeremy O. Harris in a packed booth. And while spies who submit to the crowd-sourced celebrity gossip hub @deuxmoi are eager to snap photos of clientele, none of those in attendance at the opening went on to post photos of the evening to their grid.
Since becoming the site where Kanye West gave Fox and her closest friends Birkins for her birthday earlier this year, the restaurant has increasingly been popping up in the mainstream. But to regulars like Sevigny and Smith, it still feels like a word you often hear New Yorkers associate with Lucien: home. It was only natural, then, for Smith’s latest naked self portraits to feature Lucien, as well as a number of other scene-y haunts 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 so much as Lucien, which is just a block away from where she lives. “I come here and have breakfast off-menu, store my stuff,” she says. “It’s just home away from home.”
The naked blonde figure who appears in each illustration “isn’t really an alter ego—it looks exactly like me,” Schmidt says. “The only thing ‘alter’ about it is New York is altered.” She walks me through a taxonomy of the character’s sordid company: “The regular pests are my friends. Pigeons are always normies. The roaches are usually skaters, but they could be anyone. Rats, I usually have a little more feelings for. Because even in your normal life, you see the rat and you’re like, Eugh! But you’re also like, oh, he’s kind of cute.”
If you couldn’t tell by now, the drawings aren’t for everyone. (The above sampling is on the tame side.) One features a rat performing cunnilingus on Schmidt, and in another, Schmidt returns the favor. She looks particularly joyous with the cockroaches, who take her for a ride through the sky and join her for dinner at Lucien. “Her drawings are often so controlled and sleazy—you can see her just kind of being free and really expressing herself,” Sevigny, who recalls initially being intimidated by Schmidt, says. “They’re very funny, too. We love humor in art. There’s not enough of that.” She plans to “definitely” buy one of the drawings, which are priced at $1,000. (Schmidt has also compiled them in an already sold-out book published by Bunk Club.)
Schmidt says she’s been pestering the son of Lucien’s founder Lucien Bahaj, Zac, to let her show her art there repeatedly since she met him a dozen or so years ago at Bahaj’s other restaurant, the Pink Pony. As for how she finally convinced him, Schmidt doesn’t have time to share: There’s mingling to be done, and as Sevigny put it, all of New York is here.