Curator and critic RoseLee Goldberg and her husband, furniture designer Dakota Jacksonwho, along with Liz-n-Val, must be one of the New York art world’s most instantly recognizable coupleswere front and center at the Thursday night launch of Performa 05, a startup performance art biennial (the first of its kind) that Goldberg conceived and directed. The event was hosted by fashion designer Donna Karan at the Stephan Weiss Studio (named for her late husband, who made his sculptures there) in Manhattan's West Village, and was centered on a new multimedia presentation by young Danish artist Jesper Just.
Weaving through a cluster of PR folk at the door and into the spacious first-floor room, my companion and I immediately spotted the critic Jerry Saltz deep in conversation with Just's New York gallerist, the beautiful (according to New York magazine's summer poll at least) Perry Rubenstein, while around them flitted Performa board member Stephanie French, Jeannie Greenberg Rohatyn, curator Chrissie Iles, and artist Christian Marclay. Before any discussion of Just's imminent True Love Is Yet to Come, Saltz had a tip for us: based on her contribution to “Greater New York 2005,” the Village Voice scribe suggested making time on Monday, November 14 for Tamy Ben-Tor's performance Exotica, the Rat and the Liberal.
We took dutiful note: The three-week festival is spread across more than twenty venues and features the work of over ninety artists, so any advance guidance should prove invaluable. Seating ourselves in front of a heavily curtained stage, we also heard from Rubenstein about Just's visa problems, with his last-minute arrival in New York (five o'clock Wednesday afternoon) only secured with the assistance of Washington DC-based collector and lobbyist Tony Podesta. A little after seven o'clock, the lights went down and the curtain drew back to reveal distinguished Norwegian film and television actor Baard Owe, who glanced around briefly before launching into Doris and Fred Fisher’s oldie “Whispering Grass.”
Fans of Just's video work will have had no trouble reconciling this and what followed with his previous musical explorations of masculinity and sentiment, suffused as it was in noir-ish atmosphere and Lynchian histrionics. But Just took things several steps further here, blending Owe's impassioned live renditions (which also included “Unchained Melody,” “Bless You for Being an Angel,” “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” and “Cry Me a River”) with some extraordinary layered projections that appeared almost holographic in their uncanny verisimilitude. Owe interacted with a variety of virtual settings and costarsincluding, most memorably, white-suited members of the Finnish Screaming Men's Choirand his total immersion in the artist's wistful universe earned him and his director an enthusiastic reception.
Addressing the audience immediately afterwards, Goldberg described a blushing Just as “a magician” who had “transformed what could be expected from twenty-first century performance.” Thanking some of the numerous friends and benefactors who had facilitated both his participation and the biennial as a whole, she finally introduced a verklempt Karan. The black-clad magnate instructed us, tearfully, that her husband’s former studio is “a very sacred space” and waxed emotional about True Love Is Yet to Come: “It's about moving forward and looking to the future . . . It's about love. The answer is love! I love you all!” And, drifting upstairs to explore the expansive living room and exquisitely designed rooftop garden (“I said to Stephen 'I have to be in the country,'” explained Karan, “so he said 'Then I'll build you a park'”), and taking in another round of emotional speeches from the key players along with our wine and nibbles, we were beginning to feel it.