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Art Performance New York John Howell "In the future, Soho galleries will turn into performance houses displaying novelty phenomena." -Ralston Farina This was a half-serious remark by an artist-performer who would hardly mind a vaudevillian take by the entire New York art scene. Still, it correctly reflects the increasing claims of performance on the central (Soho) art-network. The opening show of this season at the Holly Solomon Gallery is an example too pertinent to ignore. Next to Mary Heilman's primary (red, yellow, and blue), basic (square) paintings, a clear if modest statement about that form, there was a room of "Performance Objects." Among them: -Jared Bark's photo-booth assemblies, in which groupings of the serial photographs of his manipulated body operate as puns on the shape created ("Turtleman," etc.). -a large piece of floral fabric, actually a costume spread and tacked to the wall, by Robert Kushner, who designs material and outfits which are shown on live models (as in "fashion show"). -Suzanne Harris' book of plans and photographs of Locus One, her outdoor sculpture which invited its viewers through a hallway into a circular pit occupied by a large cube, and once there, to experience the ritualistic overtones of its special compass orientation and architectural formulas. -Laurie Anderson's Viophonograph, a violin with built-in turntable and needle mounted in mid-bow, and complete with record, each track of which plays only one note. 28 Here one particular gallery's group indicates the variety of work labeled "performance" and, just as significantly, the aestheticmarketing curiosity which is this genre's trademark. For the metaphorical contrast depends on a premise of equality: the objects, like the paintings, are to be viewed and dealt with as art. That they are "things" is not so unusual. Since Duchamp's first "readymade," circa 1914, the definition of art has expanded to include practically any material or object that one can name. And the swarm of conceptual art in the last few years has firmly established a notion of art as the evidence of a special activity-not, necessarily, the activity itself or its unique product. But "Performance Objects ?"-it's as if a theatre were independently exhibiting its props. This association begins to look like something beyond providing space or occasional sponsorship for performances, now a common practice among several galleries. Certain of them .regularly present artists who really have shows, notably Sonnabend (Gilbert and George, the human sculptures, musician Charlemagne Palestine, and performer Vito Acconci), and Rene Block (Fluxus alumni, political lecturer Joseph Beuys, video pioneer Nam June Paik). The art brokers' interest, of course, is yet another sign of the volume of performance action and its aesthetic status, both of which are unprecedentedly high. The bottom line is to make some financial meaning out of the association; never has the climate so favored that possibility and therefore completed the sense of a new truth: performances mean business. These art performances are a breed apart from what has become a considerable history of dance, music, theatre, and visual artist interaction , that kind of cross-disciplinary impulse which, however radically, still works out of specific backgrounds of training and tradition. Tracing the shared assumptions from Cage and Cunningham, Johns and Rauschenberg, to the Judson Dance Theatre, to the Whitney Museum Anti-Illusion show group, to the present, would reveal the growth of a substantial performance faction among artists and their audience. But those details are another story, not this one. More to the point are the experiences of Happenings and Fluxus, although their current influence seems less direct than one might guess. Their loosely-defined movements set down some now-familiar principles , such as inter- and mixed-media, idiosyncratic structures, environmental staging, personal images and common objects as material, untrained performers, and the mystique of the artist as star. Further, the events were produced with an adroit publicity, playing off art's sharp rise in social glamor (a function of the rise in big art-business) to grab the attention of the general culture (less true for Fluxus than Happenings ). The impression is one of genuinely innovative performance attitudes and forms developing in a receptive context. But both...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 28-39
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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