Catherine Damman

  • Tiffany Sia, The Bastard Scroll, 2021, ink on continuous-feed dot-matrix paper, wooden table, chair. Installation view, Artists Space, New York. Photo: Filip Wolak.

    Lust, Caution

    WORDS DRAPE THEMSELVES on art like a charismatic hostess on her divan, each sentence extruded through a lifetime’s discipline in the pretty postures of solicitation. This kind of writing—licit, sanctioned, a vehicle for the conferral of value—is the critic’s dominant mode, but the work of Tiffany Sia demands something else. How to deform language, to refuse the services into which it is regularly conscripted? The title of Sia’s first institutional exhibition, “Slippery When Wet,” which ran at New York’s Artists Space from February 17 to May 1, borrows from rather lowly prose, those meager

  • Lorraine O’Grady, The Clearing: or Cortés and La Malinche, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, N. and Me, 1991/2019, diptych, ink-jet prints, each 40 × 50". From Body Is the Ground of My Experience, 1991/2019. © Lorraine O’Grady/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    Risk Everything

    A BALL TEMPTS two running children, their mouths joyful, their eyes on the prize. Clothes and baguettes spill onto the grass; neither modesty nor scarcity is of great concern. Suffused with delectation and too good to be true, the scene is Edenic, a black-and-white fête galante for the end of the twentieth century. Above it all float a nude couple unencumbered by gravity and ensnared in each other. His pale hips sink between her thighs, his torso presses limply on her chest. Her countenance is bolted in an ambiguous expression.

    On the right, we are in the same place: the same lush trees, the same

  • Underwood & Underwood, Photograph of Silent Protest Parade, July 28, 1917. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
    interviews July 14, 2020

    Saidiya Hartman

    Five centuries of white supremacist terror: not just a past to which we are ineluctably fastened, but a present which produces us, albeit in differing orders of magnitude and vulnerability. The United States has long maintained the fiction that this country had molted its foundational violence, and yet, just as your skin sheds daily only to live dispersed atop your furniture and knick-knacks, so too does the grime of history make up the loam in which a person is destined to flourish, struggle, or wither. The work of Saidiya Hartman has charted a path in and through the social arrangements produced

  • Wu Tsang, We hold where study, 2017, two-channel HD video, color, sound, 18 minutes 56 seconds. Installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2019. Photo: John Wronn.

    DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION

    JUXTAPOSITIONS, groupings, sight lines: Foundational to the curatorial enterprise, these considerations also subtend Wu Tsang’s two-channel video We hold where study, 2017. A honeyed baritone voice-over from poet and theorist Fred Moten introduces scenes of his sons, Julian and Lorenzo, carefree and joyous in a verdant landscape. Thereafter the work unfolds in a series of sensuous duets––between boychild and Josh Johnson, and Ligia Lewis and Jonathan Gonzalez—that speak to and suffuse one another. Projected side by side so that their frames overlap, the videos present choreographed experiments

  • Ligia Lewis, Water Will. Performance View, Performance Space New York, New York, May 25, 2019. Ligia Lewis. Photo: Maria Baranova.
    performance September 18, 2019

    Dancing in the Dark

    “GOD TOOK NO PLEASURE IN HER.” A nod or some form of unbidden recognition ran through me. She was made to die, or allowed to die; in either case, she refused her fate, punching through wet earth from grave toward unaccommodating sky. Obstinate, the hand could be mastered only by the one who had borne it; the mother was swift and unhesitating with the rod—and so the buried girl stopped moving for good. 

    This story, The Willful Child, by the Brothers Grimm, haunts Ligia Lewis’s Water Will (in Melody), 2018. Water Will is the third in a trilogy of stage works, each of which wrestles with one color

  • THESE WOMEN’S WORK

    THE SNEAKERS, six pairs in all, are pink. Every actress who appears in Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Marys Seacole (2019) wears them—with jeans, with scrubs, beneath petticoats. The anesthetized set, by Mariana Sanchez, is spare: A hospital bed, a reception desk, and a waiting area adorned with potted plants are surrounded on three sides by tiles that match, almost exactly, the color of the actresses’ shoes. Flattering, photogenic, and distinctively of this moment, the rosy shade nonetheless seems almost threatening, mutant, evoking the soigné efforts of corporate branding run amok.

    Mournful bagpipes

  • ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

    OPERA, CHARLES ROSEN ONCE WROTE, is governed by “the expectation of essential lunacy.” Its unrepentant feeling, its curling decor, its warbling inheritances, all these gilded artifacts of empire seem so far from the word’s Latin root, opus, which translates to “work,” that favorite American religion.

    The late operas of Michigan-born composer Robert Ashley (1930–2014) are staged with a dignified efficiency that seems at once to point backward to this etymology and to push the genre forward into the twentieth century. To begin a new presentation of Ashley’s 1985 Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) this

  • CLOSE UP: KINETIC ELEGY

    ON NOVEMBER 21, 1986, Them, a performance by Chris Cochrane, Dennis Cooper, and Ishmael Houston-Jones, had an infamous premiere at Performance Space 122; it nearly got the place shut down. Eight years ago, PS 122 revived the work, and this summer it returned to Ninth Street and First Avenue as part of the East Village Series inaugurating the newly renovated, and renamed, Performance Space New York. The work’s legend—in certain corners, though, I would argue, not enough—precedes it.

    So I knew Them would break my heart, but I wasn’t ready for it, not really. Premonition makes for a shitty

  • Presence at the Creation

    THE GRAMMAR OF IT ALL is nearly impossible to parse, slippery in the mind and unwieldy in the mouth. Questions—though not always the right ones—abound. The first: What was Judson Dance Theater? Those inclined to diffidence might say it was some dancing that took place in a church, Judson Memorial, located in the Village. For others, what went on in that inner sanctum was no less than the most significant convulsion in the history of twentieth-century dance: not just movement, then, but revolution. July 6, 1962 was the first Judson performance, straightforwardly advertised as “A Concert

  • P.S. I LOVE YOU

    “ARROGANT ASSHOLE,” spits a man, not realizing that the words and their inflection do more to indict speaker than subject. Their target is, ostensibly, Yve Laris Cohen, the artist. We are sitting in the middle of Laris Cohen’s performance P.S. 122 (2018) on opening night, and I wish everyone would shut up.

    Laris Cohen spends most of P.S. 122 stationed far upstage. The work’s title conjures the previous name of the hosting venue, which has recently been rebranded, to an admixture of chagrin and nostalgia, as Performance Space New York. He abandons this post only occasionally—in this instance,

  • HOW DO YOU KNOW?

    “A MAN DRIVES A PICKUP into a Chelsea gallery” could be the start of a bad joke; instead, it’s the beginning of a Richard Maxwell play. The truck is a white Chevy with a licked finish, the gallery is Greene Naftali, and the massive windows, edged in weathering steel, are vertical blades, rudders pivoted by two guys I worry about in the cold, their irradiated safety hoodies thick but perhaps not enough.

    Addressed to Dante’s Divine Comedy and borrowing the title from his third canticle, Paradiso foregrounds existential questions: What is our purpose? Where will we find salvation? But Maxwell’s

  • Richard Maxwell, Showcase, 2003. Performance view, Bern, 2004. Jim Fletcher. Photo: NYC Players.
    performance December 20, 2016

    Hotel California

    YOU ARE MEETING A STRANGER AT THE HOTEL BAR. This is not your regular watering hole: velvet curtains, coffered ceilings, outstretched columns that hold up nothing. Everything is in the style of a ruin that doesn’t know it’s a ruin yet. You finger the thin straw plunged in a gin and tonic, unsure. Are you waiting to be found, or are you supposed to be looking?

    On the eighth floor, the room is dark. Shuffling in, you glimpse the outline of a recumbent figure. When the lights come up, a man is lying naked on one of two beds, phone in hand. You wait for him to speak first.

    His nakedness is not surprising