PRINT December 2018

Douglas Crimp

Julius Eastman, Trumpet, 1970. Performance view, the Kitchen, New York, February 3, 2018. Photo: Paula Court.

1 JULIUS EASTMAN (THE KITCHEN, NEW YORK; CURATED BY TIONA NEKKIA MCCLODDEN AND DUSTIN HURT) When I heard tenor Julian Terrell Otis sing Eastman’s Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc (1981) at the Kitchen, I was blown away. I’d gotten used to Eastman’s powerful baritone singing the monologue on Unjust Malaise (2005), the three-disc set of archival recordings of Eastman’s music. And then came another tour de force, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble’s rendition of the ten-cello Holy Presence itself. The Kitchen’s tribute to this incomprehensibly obscure, pugnaciously gay black composer-pianist-singer comprised a two-part exhibition and six concerts, notably including the S.E.M. Ensemble’s glorious interpretation of Femenine and Joy Boy (both 1974) and TILT Brass’s astonishing Trumpets, (1970) pain-stakingly transcribed by Christopher McIntyre.

Morgan Bassichis, The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions The Musical, Pt. 1,  2017. Performance view, New Museum, New York, October 19, 2017. Photo: Chloe Foussianes.

2 MORGAN BASSICHIS (“TRIGGER: GENDER AS A TOOL AND A WEAPON,” NEW MUSEUM, NEW YORK) Around the time that Eastman moved to New York City in 1976, two members of Lavender Hill, a commune near Ithaca, New York, wrote and illustrated a gay-liberation fantasy called The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions (1977). The enterprising and charismatic performer and composer Morgan Bassichis in 2017 turned the tract into a three-part musical (with potluck dinner). Bassichis was wacky, befuddled, sweet, illuminating, and, finally, deeply moving. Complemented by four fellow music makers, he sang his heart out and got us all to sing along.

Orra White Hitchcock, Sectional View of the Crust of the Earth, 1830–40, pen, ink, and watercolor on cotton, woven tape binding, 74 1⁄4 × 75 1⁄2".

3 ORRA WHITE HITCHCOCK (AMERICAN FOLK ART MUSEUM, NEW YORK; CURATED BY STACY C. HOLLANDER) As a young woman in Amherst, Massachusetts, Orra White (1796–1863) painted detailed watercolors of botanical specimens. Like her friend and future husband, Edward Hitchcock, Orra was a scientist and teacher. Her herbarium and an album of fungi are exquisite fusions of art and science. But the true marvels of this show were the classroom charts she made later for her husband’s lectures. Painted with ink and watercolor on canvas, these include skeletons of prehistoric beasts and geological formations. For the most part, geology cannot be seen; it must be envisioned. To do so, Orra White Hitchcock invented a diagrammatic abstract language that is both meticulous and charming.

Jack Smith, location unknown, ca. 1970–80.

4 JACK SMITH (ARTISTS SPACE, NEW YORK; CURATED BY JAY SANDERS AND JAMIE STEVENS) As you entered the exhibition, the insistent yammer of Smith’s voice intoning his 1981 monologue What’s Underground About Marshmallows? seemed the perfect swan song for the venue. (Artists Space opens in its new location next year.) The curators presented the scattered residue of the artist’s unendingly deferred performances—posters, drawings, notes, lists, costumes, fragments of film, brassieres, and Yolanda la Penguina. Smith’s queer anticapitalism came through clearly and gorgeously. There’s more sumptuous beauty crammed into a 35-mm slide by Smith than the eye can possibly take in.

Nick Mauss, Transmissions, 2018. Performance view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 20, 2018. Photo: Ron Amstutz.

5 NICK MAUSS (WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY SCOTT ROTHKOPF AND ELISABETH SUSSMAN WITH GRETA HARTENSTEIN AND ALLIE TEPPER) Many people shared my reaction on seeing Carl Van Vechten’s projected color slides in Mauss’s show: The 826 photos conjured the poly-morphous opulence of Jack Smith’s use of the medium. Titled “Transmissions,” the Whitney show was an especially fine example of the hybrid practice of an artist-researcher—curator—and, in this case, choreographer. The result was a complex queering of modernism centered on ballet, in which Lincoln Kirstein’s aesthetic commitments predominated. The installation opened with a selection of George Platt Lynes photographs hung on a scrim through which you could see live dancers dressed in costumes printed with images of artworks by Louise Lawler. The array of objects included Mauss’s re-creation of Paul Cadmus’s see-through costume for Lew Christensen’s Filling Station (1937); Eugène Berman’s stage model for George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco (1941); Elie Nadelman’s plaster figurines; paintings by Pavel Tchelitchew; and additional photographs by Cecil Beaton and PaJaMa.

Sarah Michelson’s Group Experience, 2001, projected outside Performance Space New York, April 28, 2018. Photo: David Velasco.

6 SARAH MICHELSON, MAY 2018/\ (PERFORMANCE SPACE NEW YORK) It happens that I was feeling especially old when I saw May 2018/\. How much older still did Michelson make me feel, twenty years her senior, as she shouted her lament again and again: “I’m old. Look at my hands. Look at my legs. I’m old.” Was it returning to the venue formerly known as P.S. 122, the site of her early successes, that brought on this self-flagellating tirade? Was it a tirade? It was so funny and touching, so replete with fond references to the place itself—the old place, that is.

Zoe Leonard, You see I am here after all, 2008, 3,851 vintage postcards. Installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2018. Photo: Ron Amstutz.

7 ZOE LEONARD (WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY BENNETT SIMPSON WITH REBECCA MATALON AND ELISABETH SHERMAN) If ever a midcareer artist merited the Whitney’s entire fifth floor, it is Zoe Leonard (full disclosure: I wrote for the catalogue). Occupying two thirds of that area, her exhibition became perforce a study in turning a deficit of space into an asset, paring the selection of works to a minimum that nevertheless offered the high points both photographic and sculptural. With the help of Spanish architect Marcos Corrales, Leonard constructed just-right spaces for such momentous works as Strange Fruit, 1992–97; the dye-transfer version of Analogue, 1998–2009; and You see I am here after all, 2008. And then there was the biggest spatial coup of all: Homage, 2018, Leonard’s tribute to Linda Nochlin’s groundbreaking 1971 essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” with choice quotations visible from the staircase into the museum’s work spaces.

Peter Hujar, Horse in West Virginia Mountains, 1969, gelatin silver print, 14 3⁄4 × 14 3⁄4".

8 PETER HUJAR (MORGAN LIBRARY & MUSEUM, NEW YORK; CURATED BY JOEL SMITH) This exhibition should have been larger, and I have qualms about the installation. Replicating Hujar’s 1986 solo outing at New York’s Gracie Mansion Gallery, for which he hung his photographs with no thematic or genre connections determining their order, is one thing—but the Morgan’s decision to continue that randomness throughout frustrated my desire to compare, say, one animal portrait with another, or to see the nighttime pictures of Lower Manhattan shot in 1976 as a particular kind of sequence. Still, each and every Hujar photograph is so perfect, so absorbing, that nothing else finally matters.

Gregg Bordowitz, Some Styles of Masculinity, 2018. Performance view, New Museum, New York, January 19, 2018. Photo: Chloe Foussianes.

9 GREGG BORDOWITZ (“TRIGGER: GENDER AS A TOOL AND A WEAPON,” NEW MUSEUM, NEW YORK) Rock star, rabbi, and comedian—one evening devoted to each—were the roles Bordowitz took on for The Benjamin Zev Show. The moniker is Bordowitz’s Hebrew name; the show, TV-studio stand-up comedy. But the genre is something else again: improvisations that combine classroom lecture and comedy routine with autobiographical monologue—erudite disquisitions on Lou Reed, Arnold Schoenberg’s 1932 opera Moses und Aaron, nationalism and diaspora, Jewish jokes, and so much more. Bordowitz’s ability to sustain the banter for over an hour across three nights, collectively titled Some Styles of Masculinity, is nothing short of miraculous, but what keeps you on the edge of your seat is less the virtuosity than the constant risk of failure. You laugh, you sweat, you weep.

Pam Tanowitz, Kaija Saariaho, and Brice Marden, Four Quartets, 2018. Performance view, Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, July 5, 2018. Jason Collins and Victor Lozano.

10 PAM TANOWITZ, KAIJA SAARIAHO, AND BRICE MARDEN, FOUR QUARTETS (FISHER CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS AT BARD COLLEGE, ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, NY) Not since Lucinda Childs, Philip Glass, and Sol LeWitt’s Dance, 1979, have I seen as satisfying a collaboration as Four Quartets, with Tanowitz’s choreography, Saariaho’s music, and Marden’s images—“The complete consort dancing together,” as T. S. Eliot writes in the final poem of The Four Quartets (1936–1942). Actress Kathleen Chalfant read Eliot’s masterpiece, the Knights played Saariaho’s lovely score, and Clifton Taylor converted four Marden works, from Thira, 1979–80, to Untitled (Hydra), 2018, into space-transforming stagecraft. But ultimately it was the dancers, including Tanowitz herself, who made you want to exclaim, with Eliot, “There is only the dance.”

Douglas Crimp is Fanny Knapp Allen Professor of Art History at the University of Rochester. His Recent Books Include “Our Kind of Movie”: The Films of Andy Warhol (2012) and Before Pictures (2016).