Revered for his vast wealth of original material and unique approach to performance, comedian and performance artist Andy Kaufman left an enduring legacy that challenged and transcended conventional assumptions of genre and presentation. Frequently characterized as a comedian or “personality,” Kaufman’s work on television and in live performance frequently confounded and amazed his audience, and positioning him as a pioneer of new media performance and relational aesthetics. His work in the 1970’s and 80’s before his death in 1984 included turns as an Elvis impersonator, “The Intergender Wrestling Champion of the World,” and even a foul-mouthed lounge singer named Tony Clifton.
Seeking to document Kaufman’s broad body of work, and his contributions to the world of contemporary art, Maccarone Gallery in New York is currently presenting “On Creating Reality, by Andy Kaufman,” a multimedia installation that seeks to marry Kaufman’s work and personality into an inspiring new format. Presented by artist Jonathan Berger, “On Creating Reality,” takes Kaufman’s approach to his craft and applies it to the format of the gallery show.
Combining a collection of Kaufman’s personal effects, stage props, documents, journals, and even some of his hate mail with video of Kaufman’s televised appearances and performances, Berger seeks to mimic the variety-show format that so interested Kaufman and informed much of his performance work.
Underlining Kaufman’s progressive work with relational aesthetics and audience participation, the Berger and Maccarone Gallery have also invited a number of Kaufman’s friends, family members, creative partners and even Tony Clifton himself to the show as guests. Visitors are able to sit and speak with Kaufman’s relations, hears stories, and discuss the artist with his closest friends and family, providing an intriguing primary source to complement the artifacts on view.
Forgoing active explanation of the pieces on view, visitors are encouraged to dive headfirst into Kaufman’s life andwork with a minimum of external mediation, using the exhibition as a jumping off point for their own experiences. Similar to Kaufman’s approaches at shaping and defining his personal reality, the show allows viewers their own engagement with Kaufman within the bounds of their own lives and experiences.
As a complement to the show at Maccarone Gallery, MoMa’s PS1 Gallery will be hosting a Sunday Session dedicated to Kaufman, including the New York City premiere of the film Tony Clifton Plays the Sunset Strip. There will also be a series of screenings and presentations hosted by Participant, Inc. in the Lower East Side, titled “Andy Kaufman’s 99cent tour.”
Breathing fresh life into the work of an artist who actively opened new pathways in the perception and practice of new media art and performance, “On Creating Reality” is a complexly layered presentation that welcomes repeat engagement.
The show is on view until February 16th.
Andy Kaufman “On Creating Reality” (Installation View)
All photographs by Elene Damenia for Art Observed
— D. Creahan