“Greater New York” Part Three: Some Things Change

If you’ve seen “Greater New York” already, time your next visit with a performance, have a glimpse at the exhibition’s machinery and see for yourself the extent of its evolution.

poster for

"Greater New York 2010" Exhibition

at MOMA PS1
in the Queens area
This event has ended - (2010-05-22 - 2010-10-18)

In Features by Brian Fee 2010-09-09 print


A recurring feature of these biennial-type exhibitions is the cache of add-ons: performances, screenings, studio appointments, one-off events — the type that reward repeat visits while boldly reminding us we cannot see it all (by “all” I mean the “full exhibition”) in one go. A five-month spanning, every-five-years, full-museum spread such as “Greater New York” necessarily comes laden with these special events. MoMA PS1 furthers this with an inclusion of art that actually changes, whether by the artist’s deliberate hand or by the nature of the work. Remember, this exhibition opened on May 23 and continues through October 18. The average gallery exhibition lasts about four to six weeks, so five months is a good chunk of time for “stuff to happen”.

Take note David Brooks’ Petrified Forest (2010), located in the museum’s sunken vestibule. The cement-covered nursery trees droop under their ash-colored curtain, and some of the plants have already shattered into dust. Even if this is your first time visiting the site, you can imagine how Petrified Forest appeared opening weekend, and the time-arc leading to present day. I wonder if it will be reduced to rubble come closing weekend, or if certain fronds untouched by the cement will live on. Brooks’ forest corresponds quite nicely with its unlikely neighbor in the basement, Saul Melman’s ongoing Central Governor performance. What may appear to be a fleet of unseen elves dutifully gilding the boiler unbeknownst to us all is in fact one man, the strapping Melman, moving from boiler suit to work apron, dusting salt blocks and assiduously coating every surface of the museum’s old boiler in gold leaf in a mesmerizing, rhythmic exercise.

Melman’s durational performances coincide with Aki Sasamoto, who shares the boiler room with him and performs Skewed Lies in the catacomb space towards the far back. In this darkened corner, swathed in mosquito netting and illuminated by two bug zappers, Sasamoto expounds on happy coincidences, lying friends, and her enmity for mosquitoes. Over the course of the free-form performance, she attempts to briefly become the insect, hanging off the pipes and blowing water from a straw into the suspended death lights, cursing her failure to get singed. Meanwhile, Melman goes about his work in methodical silence. They perform again September 17-19.

Performance duo robbinschilds (Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs) host “office hours” throughout GNY, rehearsing and updating their installation I came here on my own. The treat with robbinschilds is the varied experience, from their live discourse on recent travels to the Southern Hemisphere (with dueling viewpoints) to choreographed movements referencing those on two video monitors. The entire room/installation is a symmetric grid, with quadrants on the floor, two upturned “hand” chairs, two slide-projectors and so forth, imbued with robbinschilds’ presence, even when the artists are absent. Some of their singular performances — like Nut Jam from July 25 — encourage audience participation. Another unique “in-residence” is Ryan McNamara’s Make Ryan a Dancer, held throughout the building. If you see a barre-on-wheels tucked away in the corner of his 2nd floor gallery, McNamara’s probably off site. But if the barre is missing, run! Go find him! He’s somewhere, taking a dance class (ballet, modern, exotic etc) with a host of professional dancers. It is entirely charming to see the lithe artist attempt to recreate then master these moves, progressing by the day. While viewers have encountered his setup several times adjacent to the coat-check and reception area, McNamara dances technically everywhere (adding a unique spin to the “Juxtapositions” alluded to in the last installment of this “Greater New York” feature).

Besides encountering robbinschilds in suit or just their empty mirror-image “lab”, discreet interventions recur about the exhibition. This includes additions within Ismael Randall Weeks’ Untitled (2010) site-specific workroom and movements amongst Brody Condon’s brightly screenprinted steel and fabric blocks. David Adamo’s and The Bruce High Quality Foundation’s respective installations reveal accelerated metamorphoses from opening-day. Adamo’s floor of precision-wedged baseball bats, Untitled (the rite of spring) (2008(, has affected a mottled, “lived-in” vibe due to the amount of foot traffic over it. The Bruce High Quality Foundation’s array of art pedestals, Perpetual Monument to Students of Art (2010) has likewise lost its pristine uniformity, as the pedestals swapped with art students’ used plinths in varying stages of wear and tear (emphasis on tear). Though less visually arresting than We Like America and America Likes Us (2010), their contribution to this year’s Whitney Biennial, I think the message of this new installation — still art-world referential while supporting new talent — is true to the collective. The end effect of such changes, gradual and attenuate, feels less like seeing your favorite artwork hanging in a new location than that the entire exhibition is a living, breathing entity, moving towards some unknown conclusion.

Special performances occurring practically every week afford a fantastic opportunity to see the artists’ works “come alive”, so to speak. The joint performance Ghost of Birthdays Past between GNY artist Amy Yao and frequent collaborator Jacob Robichaux, held amid Yao’s Entryways to Exit Strategies (2010), utilized the total extent of the piece. Yao’s painted doors became passageways to an extemporaneous habitat (augmented for the performance by table and chairs), and the whole scene erupted into a symphony of silly-string and popping balloons as Robichaux finally chased her out of the room. Naama Tsabar hosted a how-to session on her beguiling installation Untitled (Speaker Wall) (2010), a pair of forbidding, black-foam-lined monoliths with circuitry and guitar strings on the reverse, in a June performance. She returned to the same room in mid-August with Kristin Mueller to play Doublesilverburst, Tsabar’s awesome double-guitar, joined at the headstock. The shoegaze-y aural experience unleashed the true power of Tsabar’s sound-based works, as she and Mueller rocked out, literally bound to one another with the double-guitar. For eyewitnesses too pensive to really pluck at Untitled (Speaker Wall), the sonic energy from Doublesilverburst was refreshing.


Some GNY artists choose to suggest performers relevant to their message. Dave Miko, sporting a multitude of mixed-media works, recommended two: Tom Thayer and Cy Amundson, who were both in Miko’s curated “A Lettuce Slaughter in the Woods” show at Real Fine Arts this July. Thayer’s Scenographic Play, an array of discernible, blinking electronics modules and what looked to be puppetry, affecting an abstract animation, presented a certain three-dimensional clarity to Miko’s mojo. Likewise with Amundson’s Recomposes a Painting, which encouraged audience participation, i.e. donation of materials (squares of shimmery garbage bag, plastic cups, banana peel, Silly Bandz) that Amundson methodically applied and adjusted on a massive blank canvas until it echoed a late-’20s Joan Miró collage, becoming one with Miko’s art wall.

The downstairs GNY Cinema typically changes every Thursday, with 3 PM screenings during museum hours. The fourth iteration of GNY: Rotating Gallery, curated by Clarissa Dalrymple, opens September 11. One-off performances by GNY artists or their guests occur several times a month. Plus artists Ei Arakawa and robbinschilds host “office hours” on a recurring basis. Refer to MoMA PS1’s website for updated calendar listings. If you’ve seen “Greater New York” already, time your next visit with a performance, have a glimpse at the exhibition’s machinery and see for yourself the extent of its evolution.

Brian Fee

Brian Fee. Brian Fee talks art by day, sees Brooklyn bands by night, and speaks Japanese during in-between hours. His alter ego is feeslist.blogspot.com, which includes a weekly rundown of only the dopest NY-based art/film/music events. » See other writings

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