Varieties of Performance Art Today

And Other News

Elizabeth A. Watson

Renee Stout image from Tales of the Conjure Woman Renée Stout: Tales of the Conjure Woman is on view at The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art through December 14, 2013, at the College of Charleston. A video introduces Renée Stout’s alter ego, fortune-teller Fatima Mayfield, alive and well producing alters and herbal apothecaries. The works address the age-old trials of love, money and other blues-ready topics while offering various practices of conjuring as links to our African past.

Coco Fusco, Observations of Predation in Humans: A lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist (study), 2013. Photo: Noah Krell   Radical Presence: Black Performance in ContemporaryArt, now a two-part exhibition at the Grey Art Gallery and The Studio Museum in Harlem, surveys more than four decades of performance art. The exhibition sets black performance art in historical perspective while giving younger artists, like Dave McKenzie and Derrick Adams, their place in the house. Related programming provides an opportunity to see historic performances, like Senga Nengudi’s R. S. V. P. which was included in the exhibition Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980 at P.S. 1 earlier this year. While Nengudi’s piece has past, you can still check out performances by Coco Fusco in December and Theaster Gates in January.  Radical Presence originated at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; Valerie Cassel Oliver, curator.

Malik Gaines, son of pioneering, African American conceptual artist Charles Gaines, continues the family exploration of the unfamiliar within the familiar through performance art.Scene from My Barbarian's adaptation of Brecht play.  Works of both father and son (as member of My Barbarian) were presented in the 2009-2010 Thirty Seconds Off a Inch exhibition at the SMH. The artist collective My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade) re-surfaced in July and August 2013 at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Bertolt Brecht’s play The Mother was a point of departure for the exhibition of Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse. Aside from performing an adaptation of Brecht’s play, My Barbarian considered maternal relationships in a video piece, Working Mothers. The video featured the group’s members and their mothers as well as artists Eleanor Antin and Mary Kelley, making My Barbarian’s place in the history of performance art warm and fuzzy on the avant garde tip. 

Artists Receive Awards and DistinctionsKerry James MarshallArtist Kehinde Wiley

Chicago artist Kerry James Marshall was tapped for a spot on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The Committee's new arts education initiative will help turn around low-performing schools. Developed in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Domestic Policy Council, the Turnaround Arts initiative is a public-private partnership designed to narrow the achievement gap and increase student engagement through the arts. Working in some of the nation’s lowest-performing elementary and middle schools, this program will test the hypothesis that high-quality and integrated arts education boosts academic achievement, motivates student learning and improves school culture in the context of overall school reform. See the PCAH's landmark study Re-investing in Arts Education: Winning America's Future Through Creative Schools,which provides an in-depth study of arts education and its effect on student success, and is the catalyst for this new effort.

Carrie Mae Weems received the MacArthur award: $625,000 over the next five years for unrestricted use. She was one of 23 recipients this year.

Trevor Schoonmaker with Wangechi Mutu. Photo: Nasher MuseumGary Simmons was awarded the eighth annual Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize by the Studio Museum in Harlem. The award of $50,000 recognizes his achievements and creativity as an African-American artist. Simmons work began as partially erased chalkboard drawings and has expanded to other medium while maintaining the same effect. Aside from several solo shows at The Studio Museum and other museums, his work “Blue Field Explosion” is part of the art program at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. 

Kehinde Wiley received a Cultural Leadership Award from the American Federation of the Arts in October.  The AFA recognized his portrait series celebrating regular black men as regal subjects for expanding the audience for art. 

Betye Saar installing works at NCA Gallery for her solo show, 1987. Photo: Edsel ReidBetye Saar was one of four Los Angeles women artists recognized for their artistic contributions in November with a MOCA Award to Distinguished Women in the Arts. Her assemblages were included in several Pacific Standard Time exhibitions.

Movin' On Up

More great shows should be coming from the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University now that the Trevor Schoonmaker has been named chief curator and the Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Curator of Contemporary Art there.  Schoonmaker's finely-tuned radar for rising "urban" artists resulted his 2007 show, Street Level: Mark Bradford, William Cordova and Robin Rhode.  Schoonmaker's other notable exhibitions include Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool (2008), The Record Contemporary Art and Vinyl (on the confluence of popular recordings and visual art, 2010) and a 2012 solo Mark Bradford exhibition.  His currently traveling Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey exhibition is accompanied by a large, hardcover book.  Mutu’s fantastic hybrids are on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, October 11, 2013–March 9, 2014, then they’re on to the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, and the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University.

Spooky's Homage to the Valiant 54th

Detail from Saint Gaudens' Shaw MemorialThe 54th Massachusetts Regiment, one of the first African American units of the Union army during the Civil War, was commemorated in works by Edward Bannister, Edmonia Lewis, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  The making of Saint-Gauden’s Shaw Memorial in Boston is the subject of an exhibition at the National Gallery through January 2014. "Shaw" of course is Robert Gould Shaw, the commander of the Massachusetts Regiment.  Aside from the opportunity to match your last name to that of soldiers in the regiment, the museum is presenting D. J. Spooky’s “A Civil War Symphony” on November 24.

Mural detail. Mural Arts Program. Photo: PAFA?uestlove's Guided Art Tour

Beyond the Paint: Philadelphia’s Mural Arts showcases the 30 years of the city’s Mural Arts Program. Take ?uestlove's guided, driving tour of Philly's African American communities to see the arresting, mounumental paintings on building walls and hear how they have impacted community life.  (Yes, that ?uestlove of the hiphop band, The Roots.)

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts presents the immersive Beyond the Paint: Philadelphia’s Mural Arts exhibition to celebrate the program's 30th anniversary, November 15, 2013 – April 6, 2014.  Beyond the Paint showcases community-inspired art-making in Philadelphia, while situating the Mural Arts Program’s Mural detail. Mural Arts Program. Photo: PAFAprocess and progress within the national and international realm of socially-engaged arts practices. The exhibition presents archival and documentary material, as well as images ranging from the years when the Mural Arts Program was still the “Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network,” to the most current Mural Arts Program projects and initiatives, including those still in process. Highlighting themes that have been at the heart of 30 years worth of socially conscious art projects, the exhibition celebrates the people, places, and projects that have been involved in this city-wide art project over the years. Additionally, the Museum gallery space will be enlivened by the creation of new murals.Mural detail. Mural Arts Program. Photo: PAFA

“Over the last 30 years, the Mural Arts Program has evolved from a localized attempt to deal with graffiti  to an internationally heralded art- and community-making program that has created thousands of murals, engaged tens of thousands of people in dialogue and transformation, pioneered social practice in art-making, and helped rebuild the vibrant and diverse City of Philadelphia.  We are delighted to partner with Mural Arts to bring this exciting and dynamic exhibition to life,” says Harry Philbrick, the Edna S. Tuttleman Director of the Museum.

Save the Date

Valerie Cassel OliverThe 25th Annual Porter Colloquium will be held April 11 and 12, 2014 at Howard University.   Valerie Cassel Oliver, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston will present the keynote address.  Art historian Lisa Farrington will give the opening lecture.  Farrington and art historian Lowery Sims are two of the honorees.  The conference theme is public art.


 Elizabeth A. Watson writes on art and architecture in San Diego, CA