By: Patricia Rosoff

The Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts • Middletown, CT • • Through December 9, 2012

Allora & Calzadilla, Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy, No.1, 2008.

Performance art is a global phenomenon, essentially ephemeral, temporal, and interactive. This makes it a particular challenge for curators and historians who want to archive, frame, and display it once the performance is complete. What, then, are the curatorial strategies that bring Performance Now alive? Each piece is staged individually within the communal space, demarcated architecturally and installed with living elements (videos, documentary photos, sketches, collages) or with shifts from one sound track to another.

The experience is meditative, even dreamlike. Inside the gallery’s immense glass doors, a large wall, angled, flickers with the projected image of Allora & Calzadilla’s Stop, Repair, Prepare, a 2009 performance that premiered at the Gladstone Gallery involving a piano, a pianist, and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” A sculptural element (a grand piano), coupled with the audio and kinetic (the musician stands upright through a large hole, playing the keys upside down as she pushes the instrument through the audience) invert both meaning and form. Rather like the panorama of a drive-in movie, this work beckons and directs our passage into the whole show.

Beyond this surreal introduction, positioned at the right-angled intersection of two long gallery spaces, viewers are guided through one and then another of the thirteen works on display (five others are films in an adjacent cinema). Some works, playing on opposing monitors, enfold the viewer between them.

Marina Abramovic’s Seven Easy Pieces is at the heart of the show. Each of seven video monitors is set upon a circular platform, staging similar to its 2005 performance at the Guggenheim. In this work, Abramovic reenacted seven iconic performance pieces as a demonstration of how this is done properly (i.e., not by anonymous appropriation). Each performance lasted seven hours, and were recreations of works by artists including herself, Joseph Beuys, Vito Acconci, and Bruce Nauman.

Other works, like Ragnar Kjartansson’s Bliss (recoding the repeated performance of a scene from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro without interruption for twelve consecutive hours), provide a glimpse of the inevitable breakdown of the masquerade. This artist locates us before a theatrical stage set, proscenium-like. All actors, including the artist who played the role of the count, are bewigged in full costume, moving in real time.

—Patricia Rosoff

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