Jess Barbagallo

  • performance July 27, 2020

    Nun of the Above

    AT 8 PM ON A WARM, Thursday night, a crowd of twenty arrives in a virtual room for a Zoom performance of composer, cellist, and writer Ethan Philbrick’s Disordo Virtutum, presented by New York’s Museum of Arts and Design. With varying degrees of surprise and pleasure, I find that some attendees are familiar to me. I see a former lover, an artist with whom I have made small talk on several occasions, and a choreographer I once had a shy first date with over greasy pasta at a small Italian restaurant in Ridgewood. (Today we’re friends; she’ll text me after the show.) Curator Lydia Brawner is there

  • slant June 10, 2020

    The Wheels of Joey

    AS I WAS BIKING TO MY FRIEND REL’S to retrieve a needle and some fresh material to read during quarantine, I saw an ominous calling card casually hanging from a door on Onderdonk Street. It read ROMAN EMPIRE LOGISTICS LLC, conjuring in my mind the image of flimsy gladiator breastplates being fed to lions. I presumed it was a realtor’s moniker, but later discovered it was a “fleet logistics company” contracted by Amazon to deliver packages during the pandemic. I even learned that this small enterprise was ahead of the socially responsible curve, requiring employees to wear face masks as early as

  • performance April 09, 2020

    Down Time

    FOR THE LAST FEW DAYS—between applying coats of linseed oil to my newly stripped desk and walking my dog up and down the block, maintaining six feet of distance from the other stragglers walking their own in this ominous time—I have been dipping in and out of the Trickle Up: NYC Artist Network, a subscription video platform launched on March 23 by Taylor Mac, Kristin Marting, Morgan Jenness, Emily Morse, Niegel Smith, and other leaders of the downtown theater scene. The goal of the project is to share unique missives from NYC artists as a way to gain 10,000 subscribers at $10 a month for the

  • performance January 29, 2020

    No Man’s Land

    IN THE PHYSICAL SENSE, there is very little in Richard Maxwell’s play, Queens Row. His approach to directing actors has always appeared to be an act of distillation: Eliminating the excesses of dramatic interpretation so that actors speak and are heard not for the force of their conviction—a programmed contrivance of the meta-script which constitutes popular performance—but for their commitment to stilling the physical body in lieu of more obvious psychologically-motivated behaviors. No tics, unless required explicitly by the text. No histrionics. Pure presence.

    In the eighteen years since I saw

  • performance October 07, 2019

    Here Comes the Son

    AS A THEATER PRACTIONER who has participated in the presentation of work at major museums in New York City and Europe, I’m no stranger to how the art world loves “hybrid” works of performance, which usually means the poor medium gets run through the blender of conceptualism in the name of some opaque inquiry, only to be spat back out in a so-called novel gesture. Reductions of theater to “performance” are often also thin, begging the question: How does an art practice grow when the porous social exchanges that feed its makers emotionally and aesthetically have been so utterly misappropriated by

  • performance July 19, 2019

    Butch Chasers and Femmes Fatales

    I ARRIVE TO SEE BAR DYKES at the Flea just a few minutes before 7 PM on a Friday. I spot Becca Blackwell and their best friend Casey ambling toward the theater from an unremarkable Tribeca watering hole; Jennifer is waiting inside with the tickets. Tanya texts me—“hold the curtain!”—and I can only guess what special dose of hell the MTA is serving her this evening. Returning from a quick visit to the all-gender bathroom, Becca excitedly informs us that bottles of wine are going for twenty dollars at the lobby bar. It’s a forgone conclusion that two will be purchased, and drunk, before the play

  • performance July 11, 2019

    Forbidden Love

    ON THE SECOND FLOOR of the LGBT Center on West Thirteenth Street, at the Bureau of General Services—Queer Division, Sebastián Castro Niculescu stands in teacherly repose next to a large screen. An academic goth of indeterminate age, she begins to introduce her performance, Tired Selena, by gently bemoaning the heat of the room. She gives us permission to do what we must to survive our enclosure and assures the crowd that she herself will only get shinier over the course of the next hour. Appreciative titters travel over the small audience that has gathered here, although I’m doubtful anyone will

  • performance May 07, 2019

    Live After Death

    IN THE LOBBY OF THE KITCHEN, a small black table offers tiny plastic cups of clear alcohol—wine or liquor I can’t be sure, and I don’t actually know the color of absinthe, but it seems like an appropriately gothic choice for this event—a staging of Anohni’s SHE WHO SAW BEAUTIFUL THINGS, advertised as “a two-act surrealist and absurdist drama containing music, painting, video and performance.” I imagine the preshow drink as ritualistically endowed with a kind of ceremonial magic useful for conjuring up the past. A merch table offers, among other staples, vinyls of Anohni’s music, which I first

  • performance April 19, 2019

    Cher and Cher Alike

    IT WAS EITHER SCOTT’S IDEA, or Maddie’s idea. Or it was Dave’s idea, but then Dave couldn’t come. He’d already seen it anyway and told me that it was like nothing that should be allowed onstage, but there it was. We gave his ticket to Jennifer, and the four of us made our way to the Neil Simon Theater to see The Cher Show, which—playing right across the way from Mean Girls—made a neat little homo alley out of Fifty-Second Street.

    Sitting way up in the $69 “cheap seats” on an undersold Wednesday night, I marveled at how beat up the stage floor was. This is Broadway, I thought, those words hovering

  • “ART AFTER STONEWALL”

    Curated by Jonathan Weinberg, Tyler Cann, Daniel Marcus, and Drew Sawyer

    LGBTQI advocates often credit the Stonewall riots of June 1969 as a watershed moment of the gay liberation movement—three nights of radical collective response, wherein butches, queens, sex workers, homeless youth, and trans/gender-nonconforming folks fought alongside one another to protest the punitive surveillance and imprisonment that was a given for those who dared congregate openly as queers. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of this uprising, the Leslie-Lohman Museum, in collaboration with NYU’s Grey Art

  • books September 25, 2018

    Clothes Encounters

    FASHION CLIMBING: A MEMOIR WITH PHOTOGRAPHS, BY BILL CUNNINGHAM. Preface by Hilton Als. New York: Penguin Press, 2018. 256 pages.

    BILL CUNNINGHAM WAS A NEW YORK INSTITUTION best known for his columns in the New York Times,“On the Street” and “Evening Hours,” which featured photographs documenting everything in fashion from street trends to high society gatherings. Cunningham lived his life in thrall of beauty, working his way from clothing delivery boy to stock boy to milliner to fashion reporter to beloved street photographer, his trajectory interrupted only once by a brief stint in the military.

  • performance August 10, 2018

    Sexy M.F.

    THE NIGHT I CAUGHT BRIDGET EVERETT performing at Joe’s Pub with her band The Tender Moments, the lip of the stage—where brave souls can opt to sit under the tacit agreement that they might not return home with their dignity—looked like a scene lifted directly from a middlebrow empowerment comedy. There sat an array of average-looking 9-to-5ish types straight out of central casting—employees of life, as my friend the artist Becca Blackwell might say. Panning out further, I saw summer-casual wearing homosexuals and attendant gal pals all cheerily doing their part to exceed the two-drink minimum.