Go See – New York: 'Off the Wall: Part One, Thirty Performative Actions' at the Whitney Museum of American Art, through September 19th, 2010

July 20th, 2010


Dara Friedman, Bim Bam, 1999, courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Currently on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art is the first part of a two-part exhibition titled “Off The Wall.” The exhibition at large brings together thirty works from 1946 to the present involving performative actions and seven iconic works by Trisha Brown. Part one, “Thirty Performative Actions,” was curated by Chrissie Iles, the Whitney’s Anne and Joel Ehrenkrnaz curator and is scheduled to be on display until September 19th. Part two, “Seven Works by Trisha Brown,” will run from September 30th to October 30th. This section features the return of the Trisha Brown Dance Company to the Whitney. Many of Brown’s dances were performed at the museum in 1971, so in addition to the performances taking place in the fall there will be video footage of Trisha Brown’s past work.


“Off The Wall” Opening at The Whitney Museum of American Art on June 30th, 2010, photograph courtesy of Taylor Derwin.

More text and images after the jump…


“Off The Wall” Opening at The Whitney Museum of American Art on June 30th, 2010, photograph courtesy of Taylor Derwin.

“Off The Wall” is devoted to artists who are exploring performative action and working with the human form. “Thirty Performative Actions” specifically focuses on artwork that utilizes the body either for live performance, or to create film, drawing, or photographic work. In each of these mediums the artists have transformed the living body into the subject of the work instead of using an object as their gateway to expression. Many of the works in the exhibition reveal the underlying theatricality of the performative action and how artists stage themselves and images in ways that question traditional views of identity, gender, and the body. The exhibition’s curator, Chrissie Iles, believes that this selection of work demonstrates the end of modernism. Iles also believes that the conceptual movement, which is honored in this show, was spearheaded by Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. Artists began to discuss Pollock’s work as events instead of pictures. Due to the living component in the works in “Off The Wall” each one can be considered as an event.


“Off The Wall” Opening at The Whitney Museum of American Art on June 30th, 2010, photograph courtesy of Taylor Derwin.

Some believe that the current rise of performance art is a backlash against the rise in technology. As these two starkly contrasting fields simultaneously develop, their relationship creates a very interesting dialogue. In this instance it is refreshing to see a body without the filter of a computer screen. Iles believes these pieces were not created simply to be viewed, but also to encourage the viewer to think about the work in relation to their lives. When curating the exhibition, Iles’ goal was for the visitors to feel as if they are also performers when walking through the galleries.

Two installations in the show truly hammer this feeling into the viewer. The first is Carl Andre’s Twenty-Ninth Copper Cardinal from 1975. The piece is constructed in such a way that the viewers are encouraged to walk on top of a forty-eight foot long row of square copper plates as they proceed through the exhibition. The second is Nate Lowman’s reinterpretation of the 1960 Yoko Ono work Painting to Be Stepped On. This work, which is reminiscent of a bull’s eye with jagged edges, is placed in the center of the gallery space with no boundaries, inviting the viewers to stomp on it as they please.


John Baldessari, I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (Original), 1971, photograph courtesy of John Baldessari.

“Thirty Performative Actions” is designed to expand the visitor’s viewpoint. The first thing one sees when entering the gallery is a New York art student writing on the wall for the recreation of John Baldessari’s 1971 installation I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art. Writing on the wall is an act that our society is socially trained not to do, jut the same as stepping on a painting, yet Baldessari had his students repeatedly write the sentence “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art” on a gallery wall to engrave this commitment into their minds. This work has not been performed since 1971 when it originally became a hallmark of early conceptual art.

In addition to addressing works from the conceptual movement of the sixties and seventies, Iles also includes work, which confronts the way that pedestrian gestures were contemplated as theatrical movements in the eighties. During this time the camera was a key element in creating the performative action. A lot of photographers began to explore the ideas of absence, presence, and identity in photographic portraiture. This can be seen in the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, David Wojnarowicz, Peter Hujar, Jack Pierson, Lyle Aston Harris, and Jimmy DeSana. In these works the photographers stage themselves and make use of make up, wigs, clothing, theatrical poses and lighting. Of the most striking of the photographs in the show are the never before displayed photographs of Jimmy DeSana who died from aids in 1990.


Jimmy DeSana, Marker Cones, 1982, Courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

A third theme in Thirty Performative Actions is the pressure that women feel to conform to the idealistic female body. The use of the performative action by female artists to challenge societal definitions of femininity can be seen in work by Trisha Brown, Maya Deren, Simone Forti and Yvonne Rainer. Tony Oursler’s piece Tunic (Song for Karen) from 1990 also yields to this expression. In this work, Kim Gordon, a member of Sonic Youth, acts as Karen Carpenter, from the former duo The Carpenters, who died of heart failure brought on by anorexia.

The earliest works in the exhibition address disorientation of perception. In this sense they are similar to the works by Carl Andre, Yoko Ono, and John Baldessari. Maya Deren’s film, Meditation on Violence from 1946 is a documentation of performer Chao-Li Chi demonstrating three degrees of traditional Chinese boxing in what appears to be one singular fluid movement. This film begins and ends in the midst of the movement creating feelings of disconnection and ambiguity.

Bruce Nauman’s Bouncing in the Corner No. 2 from 1948, which was originally performed at the Whitney, portrays a similar disorientation. Nauman has turned the camera upside down when filming to make himself appear to be bouncing out of the corner of a wall while hanging from the ceiling.

Andy Warhol’s Dance Diagram 5 (Fox Trot: “The Right Turn-Man”) from 1962 disorients the perception of the viewer as well. In this instance Warhol has taken a diagram of ballroom dance steps from a magazine, silk-screened it onto a canvas, and displayed it on the floor.

Paul McCarthy continued to use the floor as a means to display artworks in the early seventies. He completely eliminated the canvas and the paintbrush and created line paintings with nothing but paint and the movement of his body. Eventually conceptual artists began to consider the floor as an equal to the wall. In Richard Serra’s film Hands Scraping, which was made in 1968 and screened at the Whitney in “Anti-Illusion” the following year, both Serra and composer Philip Glass’s forearms and hands are shown meticulously clearing a pile of sawdust from the studio floor. A little less than three decades later, David Harmon takes the performative action out of the studio and substitutes the sidewalk for the floor in his video instillation Phat Free from 1995.

In addition to spatial innovations, many artists used the wall as their canvas. These artists wrote on, slapped, marked, walked on, painted, scraped and imprinted its surface. The Whitney is putting on “Off The Wall” at the perfect time. The New York art world is energized by the Museum of Modern Art’s Marina Abramovic retrospective and is really sinking into this exhibition. The curator, Chrisse Iles, has said herself that she is enjoying watching the way that viewers respond to this show. In each of the works the human body is the subject responding to spatial confinements, and at large the viewer becomes the subject responding to the spatial confinements of the exhibition.


“Off The Wall” Opening at The Whitney Museum of American Art on June 30th, 2010, photograph courtesy of Taylor Derwin.

The Whitney has been home to a long and varied history of performances from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s support of the experimental music scene in the 1920’s to profiles of American jazz innovations like Gil Evans, Jimmy Giuffre, and the Modern Jazz Quartet presented in the galleries in the 1960’s. By the 1970’s the Whitney regularly produced a full range of performing arts events.

-A. Goldberg

Related Links:
Exhibition Page [Whitney Museum of American Art]
Press Release [Whitney Museum of American Art]
Interview with Curator [Time Out]

House candidate takes break, mulling St. Francis.(Nation) go to website livingston county news

The Washington Times (Washington, DC) October 31, 1998 | Lehrer, Eli William Cook took a break from his race for Congress Oct. 3 to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi by spending a day contemplating the life of the saint.

Mr. Cook, a New York Democrat, had lots of material for contemplation. After all, the professor at the State University of New York at Geneseo has written extensively on the saint’s life.

Running what he concedes is a long-shot campaign in a House district where there are five registered Republicans for every three Democrats, Mr. Cook is an unusual species in his own party: an ardent pro-lifer.

“I believe in overturning Roe v. Wade as soon as possible,” says Mr. Cook. “It isn’t so much that I want to make abortion illegal, it’s that I want to make it unthinkable.” Mr. Cook is the only Democrat running for Congress on New York State’s Right to Life Party line.

Republican Rep. Bill Paxon currently represents the district, New York’s 27th. Mr. Paxon’s anointed successor is GOP state Rep. Tom Reynolds, cut from the same conservative cloth as Mr. Paxon.

Even Mr. Cook admits that he faces an uphill struggle. “I’m an historian, and not even I can tell you the last time a Democrat represented this district,” he says. “If one had to bet on the race, they probably should bet on my opponent.” Mr. Cook says that he felt compelled to enter the race after meeting with Mr. Paxon to discuss a bill to improve adoption procedures. The bill carried great personal interest for Mr. Cook, the father of three adopted children and a longtime crusader for improved adoption procedures.

“He said that it sounded great and that he would support it,” Mr. Cook says. “Then he did nothing.” Mr. Cook says that making adoption easier could make great headway against many social problems.

“Both the left and the right agree that children without families cause immense social problems,” says Mr. Cook. “The brother of one of my sons spent his whole life getting help from the state in various ways and now he is in jail. My son is a taxpayer.” Mr. Cook has raised very little money but says that he is getting extra support from some interesting sources. “I’m from an academic community so I have its resources to draw on,” he says. “I have a professor of media doing my media and a political science professor advising my on strategy.” Students also play a significant role in Mr. Cook’s campaign. this web site livingston county news

No daily newspaper has its main office in the district and, aside from internal polls taken by the Reynolds campaign, there has been no survey of the voting population.

Ben Carlson, who edits the local weekly Livingston County News, which does not make endorsements, says that he believes Mr. Cook may be showing some momentum. “When I go out in the district, I see awfully few Reynolds signs in people’s yards and I see Cook signs all over,” he says. “I don’t know what it means for sure, but it’s probably good for Cook.” Mr. Carlson also says that the Reynolds campaign has seemed decidedly lackluster. “Cook is running all over the place, trying to meet people and visiting all over the state every day,” says Mr. Carlson. “Reynolds sometimes doesn’t seem to be running much of a campaign at all. I’ve seen very little literature.” Lehrer, Eli