COLUMNS

  • Liberté or Death

    THE FORTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD CATALAN DIRECTOR Albert Serra has brought his singular sensibility to bear on a remarkable range of works, straddling the film and art worlds with a rare understanding of the contexts of spectatorship and a flair for productive provocation. His films bring the mythic past to life by distilling fabled events to eccentric anecdotes and imbuing figures of legend with the mundane weight of existence. Following the droll anti-adaptations of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (Honor of the Knights, 2006) and the Biblical parable of the Three Kings (Birdsong, 2008), he staged the

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  • Forever Young

    THE LEGENDARY VENUE P.S. 122—rechristened Performance Space New York—finally reopened in January. It’s hard to encompass the tangled mare’s nest of this building’s cultural associations: the place is like an archaeological site, with layers of civilization and history piled up higgledy-piggledy. Occupied originally in the late 1970s by a group of squatter-artists, the repurposed school building and its two theaters were at the center of New York’s experimental scene for nearly four decades. Spalding Gray spoke his monologues there. Philip Glass played a battered piano. Ron Athey literally bled

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  • 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

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  • Glory Be

    IN APRIL OF 2017, Diamanda Galás gave a concert in Vibiana—the airy, deconsecrated cathedral named for Saint Vibiana that once served the Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles. Her singular ululations and yowls (perfected in songs like “O, Death”) echoed across the space. I imagined her notes as a physical substance, filling up the nave of the church like a rising tide—apocalyptic and cleansing. Ron Athey’s lush and redemptive Gifts of the Spirit: Prophecy, Discernment and Automatism (a version of which was first staged in 2010 in London) performed here nearly a year later, is a kind of

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  • The Boy in the Band

    MORGAN BASSICHIS IS A COMPOSER, a comedian, and a cabaret artist (not necessarily in that order). In performance, he plays piano, tells stories, and sings in a voice so honeyed and seductive that audible sighs are sometimes heard coming from the audience at the end of his songs. Lithe as a whippet, with laser beam blue eyes, he carries himself with both the self-deprecation of the comedian, and the self-possession of the diva. “You know I start every day with gratitude,” he zinged at Danspace Project at Saint Mark’s Church in October during a live recording of his forthcoming album, More Protest

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  • CURVE BALL

    AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND’S largest city, has long instrumentalized Pacific people as a way to demonstrate its cosmopolitanism and diversity. It trades heavily on its status as one of the world’s biggest Polynesian metropolises (boasting a Pacific population of some two hundred thousand, almost 15 percent of Auckland’s total inhabitants); the city’s self-promotional efforts routinely foreground Pacific culture, artists, and, most of all, sportspeople—billboards advertising local rugby matches and underwear alike feature muscular brown men as a kind of shorthand for erotically charged athleticism.

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  • Back to School

    THIS IS THE THIRD TIME I’m writing here about Sarah Michelson’s work, following 4 in 2014 and tournamento in 2015. Now comes September2017/\, which I saw September 24 at Bard, and which was the culmination of a four-year residency Michelson had with students there. Culmination is the wrong word, but I can’t think of the right one.

    I didn’t explicitly address those first two pieces to anyone, though of course there was a particular person I was writing to, and for. I’m thinking now of how Michelson has said she makes her dances for four people, herself included; it’s something, like many things

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  • Arca Covenant

    AMONG THE PECULIARITIES of our current moment is an unprecedented willingness to give attractive, clearly male-presenting individuals radical gender points for wearing heels in public. That post-Butlerian zeitgeist certainly isn’t hurting the popularity of Venezuelan performer/producer Arca, and it probably explains the presence of the “I shop at Nasty Pig on lunch break from my Manhattan gallery job” contingent at his show at Brooklyn Steel earlier this month. But Arca taps into a much deeper and more powerful tradition of queer experimentation—less RuPaul’s Drag Race and more COIL’s soundtracks

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  • Breaking Tradition

    “I FEEL TOTALLY SPUN OUT.”

    That’s a note from 4:24 PM Saturday, two hours shy of having experienced twelve hours, spread over two weekends, of THE SET UP: ISLAND GHOST SLEEP PRINCESS TIME STORY SHOW, a series of dances unfurling on Governors Island as part of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s River to River Festival, in makeshift locations ranging from carpeted office space to cavernous basement to the dry moat surrounding a nineteenth-century fort.

    My dizziness was mild in the scheme of things: For the twenty-seven performers, the entire marathon spanned twenty-four hours (each day-long

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  • Phantom of the Oprah

    “THERE WAS A TIME—way, way back—when Oprah was a human being, just a woman, she felt pain and she suffered. She felt fear and desire.”

    So begins the storytelling in Poor People’s TV Room, a performance conceived by Okwui Okpokwasili, coauthored, designed, and directed in collaboration with Peter Born. Part theater, part dance, part installation, the piece hovers in an undefined space and time, conjuring the stories of four women: Merit (Katrina Reid), Madame (Okpokwasili), Honor (Thule Dumakude), and Yeru (Nehemoyia Young). From the grand tales of Oprah’s origin myth to the intimate gossip about

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  • Absolutely Fabulist

    THERE’S NO SATIRE QUITE LIKE THE PRESENT, a fact that poses a funny challenge to contemporary comedy—or at least threatens it with redundancy. How to harness the power of a joke, when a joke has been made all-powerful?

    Enter the great Absurdist, performance artist Michael Portnoy. His latest piece is titled Character Assassination, and it is (in part) a comedy heralding the end of comedy—or at least pointing to the rafters from which it’s hanging itself. Written in collaboration with Dan Fox (art critic, coeditor of Frieze, and author of Pretentiousness: Why It Matters), this deft and dizzying

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  • Life on Mars?

    ON FEBRUARY 19 MPA, an artist based in Joshua Tree, California, completed (along with colleagues Amapola Prada and Elizabeth Marcus-Sonenberg) an ersatz ten-day residency at the Whitney Museum titled Orbit. For that period, the three women lived sequestered in a thirty-six-foot-long by three-foot-wide sliver of the Museum’s theater facing the Hudson River. They resided like zoological specimens in this glass-enclosed box, isolated from yet completely exposed to the public during museum open hours. Dressed in red outfits that accessorized the vermillion infrastructure of their capsule, they lived

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