Volume 75, Number 23 | Oct. 26 - Nov. 01, 2005

Photo by Jaani Föhr.

The Finnish Screaming Men’s Choir, left, and Laruie Simmons’ “The Characters from the Movie,” right, are part of PERFORMA 05, the city’s first performance art biennial, now running at various locations Downtown throughout the month of November. Visit performa-arts.org for more information.

Girding a fleeting art form for the future

By Rachel Fershleiser

If RoseLee Goldberg has her way, this November will make New Yorkers see performance art in a whole new light.

“I decided it was really time to put a big frame around performance,” she says. “It’s relevant to the centerpiece of art history, and shouldn’t always be put on the side.”

It is in reaction to this sidelining that last year Goldberg founded PERFORMA, a non-profit organization committed to researching, developing, and presenting performance pieces by visual artists. From November 3rd through 21st, the organization will present PERFORMA 05, the first performance art biennial, at more than 20 museums, galleries, and performance spaces all over Manhattan, though the majority are Downtown.

Even before becoming director of PERFORMA and curator of this month’s biennial, RoseLee Goldberg was a powerful voice in performance art. She has helped to introduce performance into museums from the Royal College Art Gallery in London to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as authoring “Performance Art From Futurism to the Present” among other books, and teaching visual art performance at New York University.

As a historian, Goldberg wants to ensure that performance is well documented as we write the art history of the future.

“Performance is hot again, at least in part, because history has caught up with us,” Goldberg says. She explains that as time moves forward, the recent past is becoming the stuff of museums and textbooks. For the first time, curators now look to the 1970s as a piece of art history rather than part of the contemporary scene, and much of that era’s art was performance-related or had some live component. One of her goals in creating PERFORMA 05, Goldberg admits, was to recapture the excitement of the 70s New York art world.

Other goals of the biennial are to create awareness and a language for discussing performative visual art, as well as to stop people from feeling intimidated by it. To that end, the festival includes lectures and symposia like “Not For Sale: Curating (and Writing on) Performance for the 21st Century” and “Listen Up!” Lectures as Performances.

Most intriguing, though, are the performances themselves. More than ninety artists are involved in the multi-media presentations that span film, puppetry, ventriloquism, talk radio, stripping, and song. Jesper Just will premiere a new commission called “True Love is Yet to Come” that combines 3-D imaging, a lone opera singer, and lifelike projections of the Finnish Screaming Men’s Choir to probe questions of male identity. Francis Alÿs and Rafael Ortega will present “Rehearsal II,” a meditation on success and disappointment staged with musicians and a strip tease artist, at The Slipper Room, a Lower East Side burlesque venue. Laurie Simmons will perform alongside a musical film in “The Musical of Regret,” a work still in progress, and her directorial debut.

Although Goldberg is confident that every piece presented as part of PERFORMA 05 is worthwhile and interesting, she seems especially excited about the potential impact of the commissions.

“They’ll write a new chapter of performance history,” she says, “an area to move onward and forward into.”

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