Magazine article Artforum International

Tony Labat: New Langton Arts

Magazine article Artforum International

Tony Labat: New Langton Arts

Article excerpt

It would prove useful to consider why and how Tony Labat wasn't included in RoseLee Goldberg's live art festival PERFORMA '05, given that this sharp retrospective closed just weeks before that event kicked off in New York. Labat (along with Chris Burden and Dan Graham, Lucille Ball and Ann Magnuson, Richard Pryor and Johnny Knoxville) should be a key figure in any history of artists using action to negotiate the role of media (television and video, especially) in constructing the various, often ephemeral, aesthetic, sexual, and political narratives producing and produced by bodies or their absence. Memory loss only partly explains it.

In 1978, while still an undergraduate at the San Francisco Art Institute, Labat made his first proposal to New Langton Arts, a local alternative space founded thirty years ago. As Susan Miller, editor of the cogent catalogue accompanying the show, writes: "Knowing full well the requirements of the review and selection process, he had a bouquet of a dozen roses delivered to the panel instead of the usual packet of materials. Inscribed on the attached note card was a simple phrase, 'Trust me.' With this small and provocative action, Labat side-stepped (possibly even derailed) standard review procedure ... In the end, the roses were well received and the artist was awarded an exhibition." Three other early multifanged actions were similarly crucial: his gonged appearance (with Bruce Pollack) on The Gong Show in 1978; his drive-by kidnapping of artist-turned-politician Lowell Darling (Kidnap Attempt, 1978); and his own little bravura ring cycle, a critique, in part, of purist art sensibilities for which Labat turned his studio into a training facility (Terminal Gym, 1980-81). After months of training, he duked it out at Kezar Pavilion with rival artist Tom Chapman in a regulation boxing match, with burlesque legend Carol Doda as the round-count-card girl (Fight, 1981). The complex trajectories that intersect in these works include trust and mistrust, male camaraderie and aggression, a blurring of aesthetic and political risk-taking, as well as the sheer physicality of identity. …

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