News Performa 17

Performa Kicks Off with Gala Honoring Yoko Ono, Featuring Dadaist Salad and Cathartic Screaming

A public art work by Yoko Ono at Harlem Parish during the 2017 Performa Gala.

PHOTO BY BENJAMIN LOZOVSKY/BFA. COURTESY PERFORMA

Performa, the biennial for performance art, has once again taken over New York—and in riotous fashion. The first event Wednesday morning involved kickflips and ollies popping off the ramps at Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Skate), an installation at a skate park on the Lower East Side that places her firmly in the territory of Supreme, the streetwear brand that admitted to stealing her aesthetic for their logo design. And in case you think this is a coincidence, Kruger—who has gone on record calling Supreme a “ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers—seems to have tipped her hand with a title for a related performance piece alluding the brand’s notorious new-product offerings: Untitled (The Drop).

Also at the skatepark was Kruger’s Untitled (School), a bus tagged with her designs that will ride around to various Performa locations. Last night, it trucked up from the Lower East Side to Harlem, where the Performa crew had taken over half a deconsecrated church on 118th Street to throw its kick-off party. A fellow guest noted that this was Julie Mehretu’s studio, where she created her monumental murals now up at SFMOMA, and she was back at the old haunt—where she will return on November 16 for a performance with the jazz musician Jason Moran.

While Kruger and Mehretu are primarily visual artists who only occasionally add performance to their practice, the night was in honor of a true champion of the form, Yoko Ono. As Laurie Anderson said of Ono later in the night, “She had this revolutionary idea that art happens mainly in your head.”

Perhaps appropriately, then, Ono herself could not be present at the gala.

“She’s feeling under the weather, but she asked me to say a few things,” Peforma founder RoseLee Goldberg announced to the crowd, before reading on behalf of Ono: “I’m surprised that performance art has grown so much. I never expected that. I can’t help but think of the days when I used to do this as just a very sensitive artist filling a few chairs.”

Indeed, quite a few seats were filled at the gala, and at each place setting was a box of envelopes to be opened throughout the evening, each an iconic work of Ono’s: Touch Poem for Group of People (1963), Beat Piece (1965), and Voice Piece for Soprano (1961). Upon opening the envelope, the participant performs the work, and as the night went on the these performances would happen in waves throughout the room. Outside, Painting to Be Stepped On (1960) greeted visitors to at the entrance, and a musical group performed Pieces for Orchestra (1961) at the center of the space. So Ono was about as present as she could be without actually being there.

Even the meal, the ostensible focus of a gala dinner, was performative. The first course was salad, made by taking veggies and lettuces from a basket and cutting them with provided scissors to fall into a paper bag, at which point one drizzled Green Goddess dressing on top and shook the bag. This, a creation of Peter Hoffman, a chef who served many a classic SoHo dealer at his pioneering restaurant Savoy, was titled Salad After Tristan Tzara—marking it as a Dadaist salad. Next was black sea bass prepared a la Raoul Hausmann and George Grosz. Walnut meringues took inspiration from Jean Arp. All was delicious.

As the gala continued, William Kentridge introduced the other honoree, the collector and philanthropist Wendy Fisher. And then came the fundraising portion of the evening. For $200, you could have a Barbara Kruger beanie, a black ski cap with a red logo that looks a lot like headwear made by, you guessed it, Supreme.

Last to speak was Anderson, who recalled that, when Lou Reed died, Ono was one of the first to get in touch. “It was a little out of the blue,” Anderson explained. “I didn’t know her that well.” But a bond was forged: “She became my guide,” Anderson said. “She taught me how to move through time.”

Anderson, standing in front of a gong, announced that it was time to perform one of the Ono works that was in an envelope in the box, Voice Piece for Soprano, which has a very simple set of instructions: “Scream. 1. against the wind 2. against the wall 3. against the sky.”

“Once I hit the gong, I want you to scream for 30 seconds,” Anderson said.

And everyone screamed against the wind, against the wall, against the sky.

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