Rainer Shine

New York

Left: Curator Clarissa Dalrymple with artists Jay Heikes and Adam Helms. (Except where noted, all photos: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Performance view of Yvonne Rainer's RoS Indexical. (Photo: Paula Court)

What with fire-breathing auction bidders burning holes in their bottomless pockets for Richard Prince nurses and Jeff Koons hanging hearts, and Damien Hirst planting carcasses by the dozen in his school for scandal at Lever House, excess became the keyword last week for what Bob Dylan used to call “suck-cess.” By Friday night, it was a relief to touch down at White Columns and be greeted by fish out of water (not formaldehyde).

Said fish are jumping in a 1955 painting by Haitian folk artist Peterson Laurent that is hanging just inside the gallery door, their outside-the-mainstream status an apt metaphor for Clarissa Dalrymple’s curatorial style and for the undersung artists in “Looking Back,” her iteration of the White Columns Annual.

In Dalrymple’s case, looking back also means looking ahead, and sure enough, I arrived just in time to see Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs glom on to Mark Barrow, a new Dalrymple find who makes colorful tapestry-like dot paintings—and sells them for under four thousand dollars. (Wachs glommed on to one of those, too.) Jay Heikes and Adam Helms, two other young men in the Dalrymple coterie, are also in the show, which ceramist Andrew Lord characterized as “affectionate,” though “revolting” came to mind when I saw the wall Helms plastered with photos of dead terrorists downloaded from the Internet. It makes you want to look away, and then you can’t. “Well, yeah,” Helms said. “That’s the idea.” Lord also called the show “poetic,” though he might have been referring to the pair of crossed ceramic legs dangling from another wall, part of his own contribution to a show that is nothing if not quirky.

Left: Artist Joan Jonas with curator Chrissie Iles. Right: Performance view of Min Tanaka's Locus Focus.

So was the opening, where gaggles of inside-art types kept things down to a genteel murmur amid the silent Sadie Benning animations; photographs by Shannon Ebner; Ryman-like white thread drawings by Nancy Brooks Brody; a short, quiet film by the very quirky playwright Richard Maxwell; and a pair of gray monochrome squares by Blinky Palermo. I didn’t see him at the reception, of course, or any of those artists, but their work must have said something to me or I wouldn’t be sitting here now wanting to talk back to it.

By Sunday, I felt primed for a day of Performa 07, RoseLee Goldberg’s earnest citywide conglomeration of performance art, and tiptoed into a small room at P.S. 1, where about seventy-five scruffy people who all seemed to be under thirty sat on the floor in rapt silence. Min Tanaka, who is sixty-two and best known as a Butoh dancer, made a tortured entrance, hugging the doorjamb for dear life. For nearly an hour, in tiny, painstaking steps, he wrenched his barefoot way along a diagonal path from the hallway door to the opposite corner of the room as if experiencing a sudden and serious attack of palsy, then returned to center to perform a chorus of grimaces. He shook like a leaf at some unseen horror, arms extended, hands gripping the air like claws, fingers splayed, toes curling; eventually rolled onto the floor in slow, convulsive movements; inched his way back to the door—and finally relaxed!

Alarmed by the agony of his movements, I can’t say I found Tanaka’s dance uplifting, only intense. What did the rest of the audience feel? Some looked amazed. But no one shouted, complained, or made faces at Tanaka, or asked questions, or even whispered “Hello?” Audiences have a role to play in a performance, and if they just sit there in unquestioning reverence, they are not doing their job. Perhaps it is up to the performer to direct the action, but in this case it looked as if Tanaka was having all the fun while the rest of us did nothing but look dumb.

Left: Critic Douglas Crimp with collector Christophe de Menil. Right: Architect Charles Renfro and artist Ricci Albenda.

This sobering atmosphere gave way to gaiety at the Hudson Theater, off Times Square, where irreverence was the very subject of MacArthur Fellow Yvonne Rainer’s choreography for RoS Indexical, a droll new dance piece based not on Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (which provided the music) but rather on the loudmouthed sound track of a BBC re-creation of the legendary outrage expressed by the audience attending the 1913 Paris premiere.

Here, the audience included Joan Jonas and Chrissie Iles, film critic Amy Taubin, artists Terry Winters, Nancy Grossman, and Seton Smith, writer Lynne Tillman, collector Christophe de Menil, and filmmaker Babette Mangolte, but they all stayed in their seats when Rainer blew a whistle and Los Angeles artist Catherine Lord led several claques of live shouters onstage to surround and berate the four dancers.

They were Sally Silvers, Pat Catterson, Emily Coates, and Patricia Hoffbauer, ranged in age from thirty to sixty. Costumed in chic rehearsal sweats (by Elizabeth Hope Clancy), they made the whole thing fun, donning Kleenex boxes for dance shoes or simply rolling onto a big chintz sofa and waiting for the din to die down. It was refreshing to see the old avant-garde stick pins in the balloon of avant-garde pretense. The whole event was something of a reunion of first-wave feminist artists, really, the ones in Connie Butler’s touring “Wack!” show. Rainer had traded dancing for filmmaking ages ago and only returned to choreography in 2000, when Mikhail Baryshnikov commissioned her to make a piece for his White Oak Dance Project. I asked her if RoS meant she was back to choreography for good. “I’ll keep doing it as long as I can work with these dancers,” she said. I guess even the coolest personalities bow to sentiment now and then.

Left: Artist Louise Lawler. Right: Barbara Sukowa performing with the X-Patsys.

I could have called it a night by then, but I would have missed the X-Patsys appearing in Devouring Time, the band’s program at the Highline Ballroom in Chelsea. I arrived midset to find Robert Longo onstage with Jon Kessler, both playing guitars. Barbara Sukowa, who fronts the group, was declaiming a Shakespeare sonnet in German while an English translation appeared on a screen behind her. The music, as artist Kathe Burkhart noted later, was “kinda Joy Division,” though the songs, not counting the Shakespeare, were pure country. Sukowa, who is also Mrs. Longo and a star of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Lola and Berlin Alexanderplatz (currently installed on monitors at P.S. 1), gave every word of Patsy Cline tunes like “Walkin’ After Midnight” a new sense of melodrama. She really wailed, in a droning kind of way, on Willie Nelson’s “Crazy.” With Knox Chandler (a former Psychedelic Fur who now tours with Cindy Lauper) also on guitar, Anthony Coleman on keyboards, onetime Lounge Lizard Anton Fier playing drums, and Sean Conly on bass, the band sounded great, like a Teutonic Velvet Underground crossed with Siouxsie and the Banshees.

I could really have called it a night by the end of this, but I followed Goldberg to the backstage dressing room, where Louise Lawler and Elizabeth Peyton were already making appreciative noises. “I really liked the acting,” Lawler said. “Especially the parts without the words.”