Corporations, Hollywood, Homeland Security and Museum Space?

Posted: April 26th, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Art, Museums, performance art | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Movie lights surround Abramovic as MoMA’s atrium is turned into a film set (MoMA is slowly figuring out how to use this vast, cold space which is its center).  Three HD cameras record Abramovic’s performance at all times and a man with a still camera stands behind Abramovic, taking extreme close-ups of each person who sits across from her.  There are signs alerting the public that whoever enters acknowledges consent to being videotaped and photographed, giving up all rights to these images.

There are other signs stating that no photographs can be taken in the atrium, and there are guards set up at either ends to insure that this doesn’t occur.  Luck only for those with a long lens.

There is no photography allowed in any part of the Abramovic show, there was no photography allowed in the recent Tino Seghal show at the Guggenheim or of  any other Seghal piece for that matter, there was no photography and even more egregious, no note taking(!) allowed in the Urs Fischer show at the New Museum.  I’ve spent the last few years fighting with everyone and anyone who has challenged my right to shoot in public spaces.  Granted, a museum is a private form of public space and we’re surrounded by ever more of these hybrid spaces as true public space shrinks.

I understand that museums have the ‘right’ to forbid any activity on their premises.  But by denying viewers’ rights while invoking their own, what kind of controlling (precious) atmosphere do these museums and artists want to promote?  It seems to put us back several decades in terms of the positioning and passivity of the viewer.  These tactics also mimic those of large information-gathering corporations as well as our own government’s Department of Homeland Security.  What is up here?


Abramović – The Artist is in the Building

Posted: April 22nd, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Art, History, Museums, performance art | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

*The artist is in the building.

*A woman artist is in the building  – joining Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, Helen Frankenthaler, Elizabeth Murray and Lee Bontecou (different building) as the only women in the 81-year history of MoMA to have had retrospectives (pathetic, sad, amazing, infuriating).

*Naked people are in the building.

*A medium shot of the artist pushing her breasts towards the sky; a wide shot of women, the artist among them, lifting their dark skirts and squatting so their bare vaginas come into contact with the wet earth; an aerial shot of men humping a hill of green grass, resembling a swarm of fleshy insects – the video, Balkan Erotic Epic, is on display in the building.

I grew up in NYC.  Like many New Yorkers, I think of the Met, the Brooklyn Museum and MoMA as ‘my’ museums. New Yorkers are provincial; we’re possessive.

This partially explains the uncanny feeling I had walking through the exhibition Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present, seeing actual naked people on display. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for MoMA despite my feeling that it was historically ‘modern,’ a bit stodgy and from my Grandfather’s time.  I never located it as an institution that courted controversy, particularly when related to issues of gender or sex.

My view of MoMA, much to my surprise and pleasure, has now shifted and this shift cannot be underestimated. Something has changed here.

First I want to say that I am really pleased that there are naked people, male and female, inhabiting the public space in the Museum of Modern Art.  Inhale.  Exhale.

Ok.  The show.  The first performance I encounter walking through the first room of the show, with its heady mix of projections, photographs, grimaces and screams, is Imponderabilia.  Historically a favorite of mine, this iteration is the most functioning ‘live’ piece in the exhibition, aside from Abramovic’s presence in the atrium.  That said, it’s not nearly as strong as the original, performed in Bologna in 1977 (click on the photo above).  This is in part due to the performers lack of intensity compared to Ulay and Abramovic; it is also severely architecturally challenged.

MoMA, not quite ready to make it a prerequisite to walk between two naked people to enter an exhibition, puts the piece in the back, arranging a much larger, unencumbered pathway up front.   Thus placed, Imponderabilia becomes a spectator sport, with many watching and few daring to pass in between.  When I walked through, the piece was performed by a short woman with a tattoo on her back reading ‘remember to remember’ and a tall man with a notably long penis – perhaps slightly erect (what is known in the industry as ‘a chubby’). These details, particular to the performers, made the performance better (remember this thought).

Have I told you that I love the idea of naked people in MoMA?  That said, some of the other performances, naked or clothed (Point of Contact, Nude with Skeleton) function more like living illustrations or documentation surrounded by other forms of documentation. They are less vibrant than some of the flickering videos or grainy b&w photographs.

A disturbing piece, Luminosity, did have, and benefited from its own room.  A brightly lit person naked, hanging from a bicycle seat, is seemingly impaled onto the wall.  The first time I saw it, the performer was a perfectly coiffed perfectly bodied woman (possible candidate for a Vanessa Beecroft piece). Her expression stricken and blank; she was clearly uncomfortable, not so much physically as from finding herself exposed like this.  The piece felt exploitative.  (I must confess I spent time checking out the various modes of wearing or eradicating body hair). The second time I entered it was performed by another woman with a more particular body and a stronger presence.  She looked out into the horizon, then down at me, then to the man behind me, and then up again, readjusting, suffering, processing, thinking.  The return of my/our gaze was crucial in establishing that she was other than an object. Abramovic says this piece is about spirituality; the first performer did hit and hold the Jesus on the cross position at one point, for what it’s worth.

There is much controversy around the issue of ‘reperformance’.  And the works here do suffer from the deviation from the initial impulse of ‘no predicted end, no repetition’ as they lose vibrancy and present-tenseness. We know that they are scripted and repeated, as opposed to when they were first performed when they were question marks waiting to unfold. An interesting thing about working with the body as subject/object/material, is that part of the body’s functioning is involuntary.  Rumor has it a male performer was removed because of his errant hard-on – a real pity – but didn’t Freud say that the weather is always bad in the land of sexuality?

There can be strength in reperforming when the specific performer (preferably one that is fabulous) truly makes the piece their own. Abramovic did just that during her week in 2005 at the Guggenheim and the results were riveting.  Vito Acconci, another consummate alas lapsed performer, said that by reperforming the work becomes theater.  Ok, I like theater, but then it better be good theater.  And if it’s going to be good theater then a major principle must be adhered to:  CASTING, CASTING, CASTING.  In the case of the MoMA show, it might have been better to pick from actors or non-performers, as opposed to uniformly young, attractive dancer or model types trained in having their bodies do as they are told.  I longed for particularity and diversity in age, race, shape, muscle tone, etc.  Or howsabout if the actors/performers had been given the chance to interpret/truly become the performance.   Well this would have been a different show.

Abramovic’s performance The Artist is Present is in the main atrium; the person, the artist, the woman has arrived.  Queen-like in her red dress, she is otherwise sweaty and exhausted, her expression turned in on itself. When a person stands up, Abramovic allows herself a few minutes of pause, putting her head down, readjusting her limbs, wiping her face. We, the audience, witness her struggle.


Nathaniel Dorsky, ALL EYE

Posted: April 16th, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Art, Filmmakers, Screenings | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Robert Bresson, in his incisive sentences on sound states: if the eye is entirely won, give nothing or almost nothing to the ear.  One cannot be at the same time all eye and all ear.

Nathaniel Dorsky, voluptuous provider for the eye, makes silent films. The silence isn’t an absence, as the soundtrack – the creaks, breathing, rumbling of the subway is provided by the audience and whatever space we, the audience, are inhabiting together.  It is an intimate soundtrack, at times indiscrete.

The gaping difference between what can be seen and what can be said

The films are so purely visual as to be difficult or impossible to describe with language. Or at least I claim defeat after sitting here, time passing, fingers mute.  I can describe a shot: a woman extricating a carriage from a storefront door, followed by two small blond children.  I could say the low angled light picked out particular ever changing details and outlines, leaving others to fall off into abstraction or that there was an uncanny layering to the space or that this light was heartbreaking, in that in thirty seconds it would be gone, vanished.  This description would not convey in any way what I saw or explain the effect that it had on me, as I found myself holding my breathe for the duration of the shot.  Watching his films makes me want to go outside and look and shoot and try to see the way he does.  Does this mean I want to steal something of his approach? Is there any such thing as stealing?  Isn’t all this stuff we’re creating in dialogue?

Dorsky was invited to screen four recent films at the Museum of Modern Art last Monday in a program curated by Jytte Jensen that he described as almost a performance, in that it is so rare these days to project from 16mm film.

Dorsky didn’t talk about his films; he instead created a parallel stand up comedy routine on the precariousness of film and showing film, of movement, change and life. A question from the audience pointing to this disjunction: “Have you ever considered making a comedy?”

A question from Dorsky: “What do they call cameras these days?” (the word camera, coming from room or chamber, so evocative for both how it works and what it captures).  Someone yells from the audience “phone”, laughter, then someone else arrives at the phrase Dorsky was looking for: “image capturing device.”  Image.  Capturing.  Device (is the image capturing the device?)

Dorsky posits that the screening may mark the end of Kodachrome, the film stock that he has been shooting since he was ten. ‘Aubade’ was shot on a new stock called Vision, a word that comes out of his mouth with some difficulty.  The color range of Kodachrome so specific – irreplaceable and evocative in the way only childhood memories can be; this marks the start of a new relationship. He says he approached the new stock as one would a new lover you aren’t used to, that you don’t really know or trust or don’t quite know what to do with,

“‘I didn’t want to go too far too fast with it.”

I wonder if I have this sensual/sexual relationship to video. There’s a way I handle my camera once it is ‘mine’, the rough familiarity of its feel in my hand; I don’t like it when it’s new, it feels clumsy, I feel clumsy.  I like it when I can forget, when the subconscious takes over – when it’s an interaction between this boxy object and my eye, I use it as a facilitator, enabler and protection, allowing me to be intent on looking at what’s moving about in front of me, out of my control.  I could say, hackneyed or not, it’s like a dance where the music and physicality allows my brain to function in a different way that’s less calculated.  But now I’m getting off topic.

I try again to describe Nathaniel Dorsky’s films: small revelations, light, sensuality, mysteries, layers, light, sensual, movement, movement, movement, light, dark, dark, light, dark.  I’m getting nowhere.

“These films have nothing to do with language – not the title, not what I’m saying about them.  They are what they are.”  I’m off the hook.  He talks about when he was young and life was like a Christmas tree filled with ornaments, and that each year, another one goes away – and that now must be a hard time to be young (is this true?).

I don’t remember the last question Nick Dorsky was asked, but I do remember the summing up:

“I want to make something beautiful

something of me on a very good day, of mine, the best of me.

I want to try to leave something behind that will be helpful.”


the moment of encounter

Posted: April 12th, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Art | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Lorraine O’Grady, Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, 1980-83

Lorraine O’Grady spoke with Sanford Biggers and RoseLee Goldberg at MoMA.   This event, both fascinating and way too short considering the territory it could have covered, was co-sponsored by an organization I never knew existed – The Friends of Education of the Museum of Modern Art.  It was founded in 1993 – the same year that buttons by Daniel Joseph Martinez were handed out at the Whitney Biennial reading “I Can’t Imagine Ever Wanting to Be White.” The mission of the Friends of Education is to foster a greater appreciation of art created by African American artists…’ (hmmmm, how’re we doing?)

I’m embarrassed (frustrated?) to say that I knew nothing about Lorraine O’Grady till this fall, when I saw a series of her photographs in the Alexander Grey booth at Art Basel Miami, documenting her 1983 piece “Art Is…” O’Grady’s answer to a comment by a non-artist acquaintance: “avant-garde art doesn’t have anything to do with black people.” The performance was done during the African-American Day Parade on 125th Street, and the photographs had more life and vitality than most of the other art on display at Art Basel.

Lorraine O’Grady referring to her non-traditional career trajectory stated that she was post black before she was black – attending Wellesley and then working in a hyper-elite state department job.  It wasn’t until she situated herself within the cultural arena of the art world, deciding at 45 to become an artist, that she became black/excluded.  Then came a sentence that reverberated: “culture tends to be the ultimate barrier to equality.”

Looking at the history of O’Grady’s art over the past several decades, it’s surprising that she is just now getting wider recognition.  Or it should be surprising; unfortunately most women of her generation have come up against difficulty (how’re we doing?)  Most people of color of her generation have come up against difficulty (how’re we doing?)  And then I think to the exquisitely pleasurable and painful problem of making work that is both confrontational and ahead of its time; exquisitely painful because it will, by definition, run into all sorts of resistance.

“My work is a function of living life at the extreme of misunderstanding – when who you are isn’t taken into account let alone misunderstood.”