The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) blurs the line between fine arts and performing arts with its new exhibition Stage Presence: Theatricality in Art and Media, on view July 14 through October 8, 2012. Organized by Curator of Media Arts Rudolf Frieling, the exhibition presents works in a variety of media and features a series of performances that explore the influence of theater, dance, and performance in contemporary art.
Stage Presence gathers three decades of works by 40 artists including some key works from the SFMOMA media arts collection, all of which embrace theatricality in contemporary art practice. Exuberant manifestations of the “stage” emerge, such as beauty pageants; a dance troupe in post-punk London; artists dressed as a bear and a rat walking through the Swiss Alps; and a family occupying in-store Ikea model rooms. Some of the works are humorous and camp, while others are critical and subversive.
The exhibition also features site-specific contributions to the exhibition including an “Official Welcome” by Andrea Fraser, a new version of the performance which will be produced for SFMOMA at the July 13 exhibition opening reception; and Janet Cardiff’s participatory project The Telephone Call (2001), a commissioned audio and video walk through SFMOMA. Equipped with a small digital camcorder with stereo headphones, visitors can journey through the museum by aligning onscreen images with the actual physical space and listening to an extraordinary narrative collage that includes Cardiff’s voice, fragments of recorded music, and the artist’s footsteps. This will be the last opportunity before the museum’s forthcoming expansion to experience the work with the current building still providing most of the original settings.
The media galleries on the fourth floor will double as a cinematic screening room and a live performance space designed by Bay Area artist Tucker Nichols. Using a decidedly low-tech approach and a movable wall for the entrance, Nichols created two wallpaper designs from blown-up drawings, which are loosely reminiscent of a curtain and theatrical ornaments. Curated by Frank Smigiel, associate curator of public programs, a rich series of live acts—performances by Rashaad Newsome and Margaret Tedesco among them—will take the stage three days a week, alternating with the daily video screening program.
All together the presentation foregrounds the contemporary investigation of theatrical elements in art, creating shifts in our perception of performers and audience, of place and time, and the processes of identification and alienation.
“Theater, performing arts, and time-based media, often regarded as the opposites of the fine arts in the past, have deeply affected contemporary art over the last few decades,” says Frieling. “The theatrical in Stage Presence eschews the catharsis of traditional drama, the limiting legacies of 1970s body performance, and the traditional realms of theater and film for a fusion of genres and histories.”
The exhibition traces the influence of the theatrical in contemporary art with cornerstone historic works like James Coleman’s Photograph (1998-99), a combination of projected image, audio narration, and the still images of a theatrical rehearsal in an artistic format that owes as much to the art history of painting and tableaux vivants as to the genres of theater and film. General Idea’s installation Cornucopia: Fragments from the Room of the Unknown Function in the Villa dei Misterei of The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion (1982–83) appropriates media formats and settings such as the beauty pageant combined with a critique of consumer culture and commercial display. Subversion, humor, and transgression play key roles in these works and are equally present in Hail the New Puritan (1985–86), a seminal video work by Charles Atlas that features the life and art of Michael Clark and his dance troupe in an exuberant post-punk London.
Atlas’s document of a 1980s attitude of transgression is matched by a group of sculptural actors: Geoffrey Farmer, Tony Oursler, Peter Fischli and David Weiss. In The Right Way (1983), an early feature-length film by Fischli and Weiss, the artists, dressed as a bear and a rat, walk the scenery of the Swiss Alps while their philosophical conversation unfolds. Craigie Horsfield’s impressively scaled tapestry, Via Gianturco, Naples, February 2010 (2011), depicts an audience at a 99 Posse rock concert in Naples, Italy. The artist’s use of the ancient medium of tapestry points to the fundamental ways in which digital software is married today to the field of craft and art history, from the weaving of a pattern to the pixilation of a digital image. Artists such as George Legrady, Sam Taylor-Wood, and Catherine Wagner add unique perspectives on the photographic representation of a dramatic space.
A generation of younger artists from Mika Tajima to Guy Ben-Ner, Gerard Byrne, Sharon Hayes, and Carey Young revisit the variability of formats such as performance, lecture, and the interview. Hayes, for instance, uses the Symbionese Liberation Army’s kidnapping of Patty Hearst in 1974 to “respeak” the four audio tapes in which Hearst addresses her parents on the subject of her kidnapping. Tajima reformats her 2009 SFMOMA-commissioned collaborative production Today Is Not A Dress Rehearsal in which the scholar and professor Judith Butler rehearses a lecture.
Stage Presence is dedicated to the memory of artists David Weiss, George Kuchar, and Mike Kelley. Kelley prominently anchors the show with a dance “choreographed in the manner of Martha Graham” in Test Room Containing Multiple Stimuli Known to Elicit Curiosity and Manipulatory Responses. The video features an eclectic mix of ambiguous props with references to modernist sculptures as well as scientific and psychological laboratory experiments.
Artists in the Exhibition
Charles Atlas, Gerard Byrne, Janet Cardiff, James Coleman, Geoffrey Farmer, Fischli/Weiss, Andrea Fraser, General Idea, Sharon Hayes, Craigie Horsfield, Mike Kelley, George Legrady, Tucker Nichols, Tony Oursler, Mika Tajima with Charles Atlas, Sam Taylor-Wood, Catherine Wagner, and Carey Young.
Artists in the Daily Screening Programs
Victor Alimpiev, Guy Ben-Ner, Deville Cohen, Keren Cytter, Cheryl Donegan, Christian Jankowski, George Kuchar, Zbigniew Rybczynski, Rosemarie Trockel, and Robert Wilson.
Artists in the Performance Series
Organized by Frank Smigiel, associate curator of public programs, Stage Presence activates the fourth-floor galleries with a series of performances on Thursday evenings and weekend afternoons throughout the run of the exhibition.
Shana Moulton and Nick Hallett
Whispering Pines 10
Thursday, July 19; Saturday and Sunday, July 21 and 22
Moulton’s alternate persona, Cynthia, moves between domestic spaces, technology, and mental (if colorful) breakdown in her ongoing video series. In Whispering Pines 10, she inhabits a virtual environment of live animation alongside an electronic opera score by Hallett, featuring soprano Daisy Press.
Thursday, July 26
Cameo, Night and Nights
Saturday and Sunday, July 28 and 29
Tedesco works across performance, installation, and photography. In these appearances she draws on and restages her 2005 work Cameo, in which a woman translates feature-length films with the sound off for an audience who cannot see the images. Catalogue #3 abandons the film for the inventory.
Thursday, August 2; Saturday and Sunday, August 4 and 5
Drawing on her earlier video work I AM CRAZY, AND YOU’RE NOT WRONG (1997), Bay Area artist McGuire develops an in-gallery television special where live, simulcast, and recorded performers sing with and against each other. With her long-time collaborator Wobbly, she creates a new song cycle that can loop and change direction at any time.
Thursday, August 9; Saturday and Sunday, August 11 and 12
Hengst is a San Francisco–based painter and performance artist. Here he presents a series of new and revisited solo works, including Stink Bomb, I Am a Tree, and Elvis. Hengst’s pieces employ both wry and broad humor, zinging the audience with one-liners and also catching them in a warm embrace.
Broke People’s Baroque Peoples’ Theater
Thursday, August 16; Saturday and Sunday, August 18 and 19
My Barbarian animates theatrical styles from Baroque spectacle to camp drag to riff on the absurdities of the American financial crisis. In a performance of wastefulness, trashiness, and class warfare, the characters confront their internal conflicts over patronage, money, artistic quality, and other myths.
D-L Alvarez and Kevin Killian
The Visitor Owl
Thursday, August 23; Saturday and Sunday, August 25 and 26
This collaboration between writer Killian, visual artist Alvarez, and the San Francisco Poets Theater features hyperbolic reenactments of two seminal Sidney Poitier films about high school: Blackboard Jungle (1955) and To Sir With Love (1967). Incorporating film and live performance, this production examines a dialogue between Cold War culture, student riots, and Hollywood depictions of pedagogy, racism, and adolescence.
Richard T. Walker
the speed and eagerness of meaning (longer longing version)
Thursday, August 30; Saturday and Sunday, September 1 and 2
Walker’s meditative works combine spoken language, original music compositions, video, and photography to focus on the relationships among humans, language, and the environment. For this piece, Walker will perform in tandem with his film the speed and eagerness of meaning, adding another dimension to a work that explores the intersection of human consciousness and the natural world.
Rashaad Newsome’s Shade Compositions
Thursday, October 4, 9 p.m.
Rashaad Newsome’s Shade Compositions takes up the body language and voice of certain women of color—wondering how a seemingly sassy street expression exists in its place and also extends across the globe as an open vernacular. “Girrl” is now a question, and not an answer. Newsome uses gaming technology to choreograph a chorus of twenty performers. Unlike previous iterations, the SFMOMA performance will include local women artists and also drag performers with a wardrobe designed by Alexander Wang. The siting of the piece here will meditate on the changing footprint of the African-American community in the Bay Area and also on the way queer culture has drawn sustenance and inspiration from the iconic “black diva.”
Just for members:
Friday, July 13, 7 p.m.
Andrea Fraser’s work across video and performance often occupies art institutions to highlight their hidden histories, customs, and language. In this new staging of her 2001 performance Official Welcome, Fraser inhabits the SFMOMA member party for the openings of Cindy Sherman and Stage Presence. A recording of the performance will later go on view in Stage Presence.