“The Wooster Group” Exhibition

Carriage Trade

poster for “The Wooster Group” Exhibition
[Image: The Wooster Group, Frank Dell's The Temptation of St. Antony, (Ron Vawter, Peyton Smith), 1988, Photo: © Louise Oligny]

This event has ended.

When an emancipation occurs, lots of things are liberated, some good, some bad. 1
Ron Vawter

I love that two-dimensional TV world. It’s not ambiguous, like film; I can feel the surface. 2
Elizabeth LeCompte

Underneath each picture there is always another picture. 3
Douglas Crimp

Carriage trade presents an exhibition with The Wooster Group, featuring archival material, props, and performance documentation emphasizing the group’s significant contribution to both performative and visual culture over the last four and a half decades.

The Wooster Group has maintained a home at The Performing Garage at 33 Wooster Street since the mid-1970’s, originating within a downtown experimental art scene of cross-disciplinary activity and hybrid forms. Led and directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, who draws on diverse sources including traditional plays, B-movies, stand-up comedy, and autobiographical material, The Wooster Group’s work eludes categorization and obvious description. As part of a core of founding members* including Spaulding Gray (1941-2004), Jim Clayburgh, Ron Vawter (1948-1994), Willem Dafoe, Kate Valk, and Peyton Smith, LeCompte’s singular vision remains central to the group’s identity.

To experience a Wooster Group piece is to experience a kind of assault on the present, a sense of being overwhelmed with simultaneity, of overlapping media images and live action, of disorientation. A relentless build-up through a series of fractured narratives suddenly pauses as an”MC” intervenes (Ron Vawter channeling Lenny Bruce in Frank Dell’s The Temptation of St. Antony, Kate Valk’s narrator role in Brace Up!), anchoring time in a surreal televisual world where the person behind the screen speaks to us; a reassuring presence from the mediascape beyond.

Prodded by buzzers and bells reminiscent of TV game shows, the action just as quickly shifts again, with the audience not so much following along as awash in a visual and aural field of sustained intensity. Whether propelled by the B-movie Olga’s House of Shame in House/Lights
(1998), or shadowed by the 1964 film version of Richard Burton’s Hamlet as they navigate a series of physically challenging stage directions requiring a disciplined attentiveness, the performers seem possessed. Wedded to media imagery that dictates their actions, the notion of presence, of real time, loses its grip. Video screens mix replicas of onstage action with “borrowed” footage. Overlapping and conflicting source materials often engage brutal contradictions. Mixing violence and optimism, crassness and beauty, the institutional voice versus the autobiographical, and the live and the mediated, the audience is never off the hook. Instead, the intensity of the impressions linger, the lack of resolution filters back convincingly into everyday life.

This first exhibition devoted exclusively to The Wooster Group will focus on fifteen shows that collectively represent a cross section of their work (with four full performances screening each day) emphasizing their important role in addressing questions of representation, identity, and agency which parallel developments in visual art. As much image-makers as performers, their interests straddle a line that encompasses both. Through the presentation of archival material, performance videos, and objects which reveal the enormous depth and complexity of their projects, this exhibition is meant as both a concise overview and celebration of The Wooster Group, an evolving collective of independent-minded artists whose work continues to challenge the cultural status quo in America and abroad.



from November 07, 2019 to March 04, 2020

Closing Reception on 2020-03-03 from 18:30 to 21:30

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