Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark: Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970s
Barbican Art Gallery London 3 March to 22 May
In 'Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970s', works produced by Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown and Gordon MattaClark are presented against a backdrop of the burgeoning 1970s art scene, centred on the city's SoHo district. While Brown relocated from California to New York in 1961, Matta-Clark and Anderson took up permanent residence after 1968. As a result, hallmarks of Conceptual Art practice bound the early concerns of these individuals together. This brief congruence of style and subject matter provides a solid base for an exploration of the group's interrelationships. Their shared embrace of a conceptual methodology (adopted in contrast to the pop and minimalist sensibilities of the 1960s) provides a useful point of exposition for the exhibition's narrative line, beginning in the late 1960s and ending in 1978, the year of Matta-Clark's death. To help illustrate the formal and informal intersections between their practices, the display is split into four sections: Downtown New York, Drawing and Performing, Urban Interventions, Performance and Interaction.
The gallery's first floor is used for a series of restaged installations. Each of the tripartite group has a sizable work here, but Brown's presence dominates. A programme of four dance pieces is scheduled for performance each day, and the large apparatuses set up for three of these works double as sculptural objects when not in use. Between Floor of the Forest, 1970 (a work in which dancers slip in and out of clothes that form the base of a suspended platform), and Planes, 1968 (a work in which dancers climb a wall, by gripping holes punctured into it), Walking on the Wall, 1971, is the most visually arresting. Five dancers, held up by harnesses and rope, hang and extend perpendicular to the gallery's wall. Secured in this fashion, the dancers walk the wall's length, negotiating a risky corner, changing direction at the slightest point of contact. Watching these performers defy gravity is a singularly odd experience. The subtle disorientation that accompanies the spectatorship of this work distinguishes it from the other set-based pieces that seem to unfold apropos of nothing at all. Like much of what Brown calls her 'postmodern' (for which read 'after Martha Graham') choreography, there is a certain weightlessness to Floor of the Forest and Planes that balances precariously between the ethereal and the vapid.
Offsetting Brown's equable choreography are two edgier works by Anderson and Matta-Clark. Anderson's The Electric Chair, 197778/2011, is a kinetic artwork for the warehouse party generation. A worn and paint-splattered platform holds a motorised office chair that jerks intermittently back and forth in a straight line. Placed next to amplified fluorescent lights and a Farfisa organ (keys clamped to emit a clustered discord) it is as if the abandoned rehearsal room of Throbbing Gristle had been animated by a poltergeist. Matta-Clark's Open House, 1972, also makes use of industrial material. Originally, Matta-Clark customised a large industrial waste container by building a set of corridors in its hollow interior. The container was placed between 98 and 112 Green Street in SoHo, and Matta-Clark invited dancers and artists to 'perform' inside. Transported out of its site specificity, the constructed softly lit replica offers a sanitised version of the original piece. Somewhat at sea without its geographical context, the curious decision has been taken to add contemporary graffiti to its exterior, when it originally had none. Matta-Clark's enthusiasm for street art is tentatively referenced via the inclusion of Graffiti: Mike, 1973, and Graffiti: Linda, 1973, two photographs documenting the amateurish tags of the works' respective namesakes. …