Magazine article Artforum International

The Year in Performance

Magazine article Artforum International

The Year in Performance

Article excerpt

THIS SEEMS TO BE THE YEAR that dance went discursive. The possibilities and limitations of this shift marked the two most influential performance experiences I had in 2014. The first was Ralph Lemon's Value Talks at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, a yearlong series of discussions and performances, and the second was Boris Charmatz's expo zero in its two-day iteration at Berliner Festspiele in July. And, sigh, full disclosure: I was partially involved in both projects, as one of a lineup of invited participants.

Lemon's Value Talks were organized as part of his one-year Annenberg Research Commission Residency at MOMA and seemed to spring from the choreographer's unease with the way in which dance has begun to appear in museums since the mid-2000s (i.e., as entertaining fairy dust, injecting live thrills into sterile spaces). This trend requires choreographers either to edit preexisting Tork or to produce new pieces that relinquish atmospheric specificity (including lighting and acoustics) for the unforgiving harshness of the white cube. Lemon proposed a series of seven events that dealt with the question of value, beginning with the incommensurate economies of visual art and dance but also extending more widely into issues of race and culture. Although most of the events were filmed, only a couple are available on MOMA'S website--itself raising questions about where performance's value lies: in the event itself or in its documentation (of which this article forms a part).

The first event, in October 2013, was a discussion that included Lemon, Charmatz, and the venerable choreographer Simone Forti, which reportedly got off to a bad start by asking how visual artists manage to sell a conversation for a million dollars, all of which seemed like a nasty case of Tino Sehgal envy. Finance also dominated the second event (the first that I actually attended) a month later: an intimate gathering held in the "Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New" show, where MOMA director Glenn D. Lowry recounted the difficulties of acquiring Robert Rauschenberg's combine Canyon, 1959, due to its inclusion of a bald eagle (illegal to trade or own in the US). The talk was fairly innocuous until associate director Kathy Halbreich asked my opinion, which inadvertently opened things up to an explosion of criticism of MOMA'S institutional values, particularly the depoliticized neutrality of its displays and Lowry's claim that the museum was no longer canonical. Finally, those of us frustrated with MOMA could speak truth to power; it was therapeutic, although it almost certainly won't have any impact.


Later in the series, in March, art historian Kellie Jones spoke on the theme of absence and ancestry in the work of David Ham mons. For the first half of her talk, Jones lectured in absentia, her disembodied voice filling a small screening room with the poetry of her father, Amiri Baraka, who had died two months earlier. This was a powerful opener to a discussion of Hammons's work in relation to bebop. Two weeks later, artist Kevin Beasley and poet-scholar Fred Moten put together an evening themed around improvisation ("On Value, Poetry, and the Turntable"): Beasley mixed records while Moten simultaneously composed a rapid-fire response in poetry. In May, we gathered off-site to see choreographer Sarah Michelson "in rehearsal" with two of her dancers; she spoke so sotto voce that this was easily the least language-driven event in the series, effectively presenting the rehearsal as pure image. Inviting us to enter after the discussion had already begun and to leave before it had ended, Michelson refused the usual format of performance-and-talk-back in favor of opacity, a fantasy of rehearsal.

Of course, had Yvonne Rainer's contribution been realized--a proposal to fall asleep underneath Henri Rousseau's 1897 painting Sleeping Gypsy--it would have trumped Michelson's antidialogic provocation. …

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