The crowd at Frieze New York hardly bats an eye when Leonardo DiCaprio makes his carefully low-key appearance at the annual fair on Randall’s Island. But today, starting at 11 a.m. sharp, when today’s preview event for the fair began with a push of art collectors and art advisers recalling Pamplona’s running of the bulls, Leo could be seen quite openly, calming strutting around the fair.
In fact, there were three of him.
And each was styled not in sunglasses and hat but rather as a character he has played over the years: Frank Abagnale, Jr. in a pilot’s suit from Catch Me If You Can (2002), Jordan Belfort in dark pinstripes from The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), and Hugh Glass in rank layers of fur from The Revenant (2016).
The trio of doppelgangers are a new, and heretofore unannounced, site-specific performance planned and staged by the Brooklyn-based Croatian artist Dora Budor. The performance, commissioned by Cecilia Alemani, the curator for Frieze Projects, continues through Sunday during fair hours.
“I wanted to create the opportunity for unsuspecting visitors at the fair to experience a disjointed reality—believing that the actor Leonardo DiCaprio might be there, but seeing him, impossibly, many years younger and as characters he has played,” Budor said this morning as she oversaw the costuming.
And that’s pretty much what happened. Upon spotting the heavily tanned Jordan Belfort character pacing the halls of the fair while screaming about the stock market, curator Liz Munsell of Boston’s Museum of Fine Art wasn’t sure what to think at first, though she said she was tipped off by the heavy makeup. “I knew that a performance was happening,” she said. Looking on next to her, Andrew Perchuk of the Getty Research Institute added, “It’s a pretty good Leonardo.”
Miami collectors Mera and Don Rubell caught a glimpse of Belfort in his pinstriped suit as they finished an early lunch. There was some debate at their table: was it actually Leonardo DiCaprio? “It wouldn’t be shocking for him to actually be doing this because I know he loves the art and doesn’t take himself too seriously for being a big star,” Mera mused.
Budor said the genesis of her new project was when she thought she saw the Oscar-winning actor at the London version of Frieze two years ago. “I am still not sure but that triggered in my brain all his roles and the cinematic characters that he played,” she recalled.
“I’m interested in these moments where reality and fiction start bleeding into each other,” Budor, 32, said. “I’m interested in splitting narratives.”
The artist emigrated nine years ago from the former Yugoslavia where her parents were artists; her grandfather was a well-known actor; and her grandmother a film and TV director. Budor’s early fascination with cinema has pervaded her practice, which is grounded in sculpture, architectural interventions, and performance. Her career took off in 2014 when she won the Rema Hort Emerging Artist Grant. Her works frequently investigate the subtexts of mainstream cinema and often make use of original props from the film, or sculptural re-imaginings of them, as in her installation in the Whitney’s “Dreamlands” show, for which she tracked down and bought the amphibious props from that famous scene in Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie Magnolia in which frogs fall from the sky. Beginning June 14, she will be in “The Dream of Forms,” a big group show at Palais de Tokyo in Paris that runs through September 10, and right now she has sculptures in shows on New York’s High Line and at Antenna Gallery in Shanghai.
This morning at 8 a.m., in a sliver of space behind a booth at Frieze, a crew of five (make-up, wardrobe, props, hair, etc.) began working on Leo Kukhar, the actor who would be portraying the burly, bearded, filthy, scarred character from The Revenant. Standing on a dirty plywood floor amidst a snarl of electrical cords, a pink coiffed hairdresser trimmed and sprayed a long dark wig as a hatted hipster trimmed a fake beard.
“Where’s that bear-claw necklace?” the costumer muttered to herself, “Ah, I found it!” She used its sharp point to etch the shape of a spiral into a metal canteen, replicating a key prop and plot point in the movie.
The other men, whose stylings were far less elaborate, arrived in their street clothes a half hour before the preview opened, slipping unnoticed into the make-shift trailer as a trot of VIPs emerged from a breakfast in one of the VIP lounges. The actors dressed themselves, glancing over a buffet of makeup and hair products at images of each character duct-taped to the back of booth’s wall.
Shortly before releasing each Leo, one by one, into the fair, Budor introduced her photographer, who would be documenting the performance for the artist’s use in a future project. “Guys, please remember his face because he will be shadowing you all day,” she directed the actors, adding that they should not acknowledge the photographer’s presence.
Budor entitled the performance MANICOMIO!—Italian for “Madhouse!” Audience members at the 1921 premiere of Luigi Pirandello’s play Six Characters in Search of an Author reportedly shouted it as they became frustrated by the illogical progression of events. Budor shared by email this quote from the work: “When a character is born, he acquires at once such an independence, even of his own author, that he can be imagined by everybody even in many other situations where the author never dreamed of placing him; and so he acquires for himself a meaning which the author never thought of giving him.”
Critically for Budor, her list of materials for the artwork (“dimensions variable,” she noted wryly) includes not the specifics of the costumes, props, and makeup but simply “characters, impersonations, rumors.”
“The way I want the piece to be perceived is nothing to be stated up front, so when you can encounter it, it’s completely secret or you hear rumors,” she warned weeks ago. She elicited promises from Frieze leadership that there would be no details leaked about the project and even negotiated the timing—to the hour—of this article to ensure that confusion and curiosity would be allowed to build during the first day of the fair. (Judging by Instagram, that seems to have worked out.)
Budor noted that the roles she chose are all ones where the actor has portrayed real people–adding layers of complexity to the blurring between fiction and reality in her work. She said she thinks of Hugh Glass from The Revenant as “the survivor who is bent on revenge.” Through the duration of the fair, she said, “outside conditions and bodily changes he goes through in the film will appear and disappear on him,” including wounds, scars, dirt, and even snow. She sees Frank Abagnale, Jr. as “as a brilliant forger and impersonator in his own right.” And Jordan Belfort from The Wolf of Wall Street is “wolf-like, the uncompromising winner,” who, adding one more layer, is brought to life this week by the actor Ben Cornish, who portrayed the Oscar-winning actor in the 2013 Scary Movie 5. (He is the only one of the trio who will use his voice to perform and act out scenes, in a repetitiously compressed version of the film.)
For Budor, of course, the pinnacle for the piece would be if the real Leonardo were to appear. “He comes every year so that’s part of the idea: he becomes the fourth actor, as himself,” Budor said, hope in her voice. “It’s like the rings of Saturn, where all Leos orbit the central idea of the eternal Leo.”