Performance Art Takes Over NYC

10/28/2009 4:00 AM |

RoseLee Goldberg is at it again. The third installment of her massive performance biennial, Performa 09 (November 1 to 22), is bigger and more ambitious than ever. Not only are there well over 100 artists participating in dozens of venues and galleries across the city, but there’s an equally ambitious exhibition being mounted at P.S.1 tracing the past 100 years of performance art. The exhibition and the biennial take the 1909 publication of Filippo Marinetti‘s Futurist Manifesto as their leaping off point. It’s a manifesto that was itself an act of performance, though much of what it signified related to Marinetti’s deep-seated hatred of non-Italians, women, museums, libraries, and any establishment that didn’t do things his way. It also declared that war was “the world’s only hygiene,” just five years before the start of World War I, one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.

All that said, the Futurists‘ politics are tangential, in some way, to their importance in the history of performance art. They were, according to Goldberg, responsible for re-envisioning performance as a new medium for art rather than simply a venue for theatrics. And it’s for that reason that this year’s biennial reflects on and re-examines that infamous document and the movement that it helped to give rise to.

The fest opens with two massive spectacles on the evening of November 1. The first is a performance at MoMA by the New York music and performance group Fischerspooner and will no doubt feature a slick mash-up of video, music, costume, and electronic pop. The next opening extravaganza is a parade commissioned by Performa from the sound artist Arto Lindsay, who has enlisted at least 50 others to help him wend his way through the new Times Square. From there the biennial rushes forward with works from art world mainstays like William Kentridge, Tracey Emin, and the belated Merce Cunningham, to relative newbies like Tanja Ostojic, Kabir Carter, and Ahmet Ogut.

In one of the pieces that seems to perfectly capture Performa’s impulse to simultaneously look backward and forward, Alicia Framis will be performing Lost Astronaut throughout the fest, in a number of different locales at all hours of the day and night. She will literally dress as an astronaut from and/or headed to a possible future, performing work written by people ranging from the self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art,” Marina Abramovich to novelist and children’s book author Shelley Jackson.

(photo credit: Performa; Anna Halprin, Anne Collod, & guests: “parades & changes, replays” courtesy Dance Theater Workshop and Performa)