Jack Smith, Irrational Landlordism of Bagdad (a.k.a. Material Landlordism of Bagdad, a.k.a. The Secret of the Brassiere Factory), Cologne Art Fair, Germany, October 26–31, 1977. All images © Jack Smith Archive, courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels
See this review in Metro New York, published November 20, 2013 online.
Whitney’s Rituals of Rented Island: A Vast exhibition of 1970s NYC Performance Art
The Whitney Museum of American Art’s new exhibition — “Rituals of Rented Island: Object Theater, Loft Performance, and the New Psychodrama-Manhattan, 1970-1980” — showcases a collection of New York-based performance artists working in alternative spaces meant to radicalize the medium’s potential. Think theater without plot, characters or narratives, and instead artists doing absurdist nonsensical acts.
In ways, this exhibit is more akin to a history museum than to an art museum. Presenting time-based art always has its challenges, a difficulty only heightened by these esoteric performances created to confuse and alienate audiences. “Rituals of Rented Island” is less an accessible introduction to 1970s performance art and more an historical archive.
The show overwhelms, but accolades to the Whitney for presenting rare documentation. Walls are plastered with archival ephemera including photographs, scripts, notes, props, costumes and promotional material. My personal opinion: less is more when it comes to conceptual art, and where this exhibit works is when we can watch video footage of the actual performances.
The art itself is fascinating; I suggest breezing through the show to the actual video footage, specifically of artists Yvonne Rainer, Vito Acconci and Ken Jacobs. Rainer’s this is the story of a woman who…. (1973) is a fusion of dance and performance plotting an intimate relationship and the contradictions between one’s inner thoughts and physical actions. Vito Acconci’s Claim (1971) shows the artist blindfolded at the bottom of a basement stairwell murmuring obscenities while swinging a crowbar at anyone who dared enter the apartment. Ken Jacobs’s “Slow is Beauty” – Rodin (1974) is 3-D shadow play, where young actors backlit by polarized lights behind sheets perform mundane tasks to the accompaniment of ambient noise; it’s a sort of “Gravity” for the Cold War era.
Brave the storm, go to the Whitney at least to see Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE. This artist exudes Americana through his graphic-design-inspired paintings consumed by bold colors and declarative statements. You have seen Love (1965), and you know you enjoy it, so go experience his other hard-edged, polychromic canvases.
Rituals of Rented Island on view through February 2014
Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE on view through January 2014
The Whitney Museum, 945 Madison Avenue
Museum hours are Wednesday – Sunday, 11-6
Free Fridays 6-9