PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 27.2 (2005) 87-90
[Access article in PDF]
Arnie Zane and the Lantern of Memory
The graphic panache of old circus-like posters greeted the viewer entering Arnie Zane: Photographs, an exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery's upstairs space in early 2004. Zane is best known as the dancer-choreographer who collaborated with Bill T. Jones from 1971 until his death in 1988. But who knew that he had designed these small scale "Lobby Cards" for performances and photography exhibitions that he and partner Jones held during the early years of their creative work? Slightly anachronistic even for the 1970s, their vaudevillian charm was a fitting introduction to the quietly moving exhibition of Zane's photographs. Jones and Zane's collaboration evolved from their student days at SUNY-Binghamton into an astute form of performance art that addressed, very early on, political issues of race, sexuality, even age and poverty, through dance. Renowned for their superlative physical teamwork, the dancers developed an eclectic choreography inclusive of vaudeville, tap, clowning, and modern dance as well as vocabularies of everyday movement. Their productions even incorporated projected light imagery, a device that had come into vogue among young artists for a multitude of reasons. What came to distinguish Jones and Zane's work within a diverse field of emerging performance art forms in the 1970s was its emphasis on dance as a body-centered art. This focus gave them great conceptual latitude and still serves as a key to the wit and humanity of their oeuvre. The essence of their concerns is crystallized in Zane's experimental photographs.
The greater part of the exhibition consisted of small sized gelatin silver prints, toned to colors of sepia, blue, reddish brown, as well as classic black and white. Zane often studied the human body in everyday gestures of rest and movement. Portraits and torsos of Jones, Zane himself, and other people in their circle appear. Simple descriptive titles like "Untitled (Arnie at the Beach)" or "Untitled (Lois in her Party Dress)" reflect the mien of lithe young bodies wearing thrift store chic back in the [End Page 87]
Click for larger view
| Figure 1 |
Arnie Zane photographs, (a) Untitled (Tonia), c. 1971; (b) Untitled (Self-portrait, torso), c. 1976; (c) Untitled (Bill), c. 1972; (d) #1 Figure on Rooftop, n.d. Photos: Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.
1970s. For two portraits of Jones, Zane chose to use perfect focus, a glossy surface, and a rich palette of black and white tones. The figure stands erect before a cloth backdrop at arm's length distance or so, framed from neck to thighs in one, from head (wearing the characteristic glasses) to thighs in the other. Light ïows softly over his youthful dark skin and white jockey shorts. The portraits incongruously suggest the doctor's office as much as an audition or the lover's gaze. Jones's sister Rhodessa, also a performer, is introduced in a nude portrait taken at a garden in San Francisco. She is depicted in soft focus with a reddish-brown cast to the image. Zane sometimes solarized prints, an effect that reverses tonalities and creates halos of light around figures, objects, and edges. He mounted some of the portraits on colored board with collage elements, giving them an artisanal look at once naive and tender, like a fan's homage to a star. There are also a few prints in which Zane photographed himself rehearsing on a rooftop wearing a white caftan. The focus is soft and the print tone is warm brown with pink highlights. Whether the dancer looks over his shoulder at the camera or stands still at a distance, he looks somehow prophet-like.
Critic Jeffrey Green has characterized Zane's portraits as "breaking down boundaries of race and...