Monday, February 28, 2011

A Butoh Moment @ Ceres Gallery + Ulf Puder unearthed


Vernita  N'cognita lets fly in a hyper-controlled butoh fashion

In the spirit of "you learn something new every day as long as you refrain from saying meh," I learned a new word today: butoh. Butoh is a kind of mute performance so eloquently defined in Wikipedia, I've copy-pasted the definition here: 

Butoh (舞踏 Butō?) is the collective name for a diverse range of activities, techniques and motivations for dance, performance, or movement inspired by the Ankoku-Butoh (暗黒舞踏ankoku butō?) movement. It typically involves playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, extreme or absurd environments, and is traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion, with or without an audience. There is no set style, and it may be purely conceptual with no movement at all. Its origins have been attributed to Japanese dance legendsTatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno

I love the part "with or without an audience," bringing to mind the adage of a tree falling in a forest empty of onlookers - did it really fall?  The definition frees the performer to do his or her stuff without any need for pesky, judgemental, texting bystanders.

Thus, in contrast to some of my art-loving pals who insist on heavily researching what they're going to see "in case they waste their time," stumbling around contemporary art galleries on spec never feels a waste to yours truly. Rods and cones must be recharged weekly if not daily,  and there's no better way than to look at stuff unsolicited. Plus, you get to wallow in spaces you otherwise couldn't afford to rent in your wildest dreams. So it was with this mindset that I dragged my performance-art-averse beau to a performance art piece by Vernita Nemec aka Vernita N'cognita.

The venue was the feminist co-op gallery Ceres, where I recently discovered - and subsequently rhapsodized - a photo of an Osaka stripmall by photographer Masayo Nishimura.  From the Ceres site:


Founded in 1983, as a program of the New York Feminist Art Institute, Ceres is a not-for-profit artist run organization dedicated to the promotion of contemporary women in the arts. 


The red represents menstrual blood, hypothesized David
To some evocative noodling by guitarist Sean Carolan (electrified by a legendary Pignose travel amp I immediately coveted) Vernita wordlessly prowled the space with a white mask and initially, her plastic wine cup. She fondled some red clothing and embraced a mummy-like mannequin swaddled in red. She ended up in a small wooden room in the corner that was spattered with blood and hung with chains on the inside. I was too busy snapping away to construct a mental narrative about what was going on, and my beau sat on the edge of his chair, looking like he wanted to vacate it any minute.

On completion of the 15 minute performance, my beau utterly stunned me with a well-considered interpretation of what he'd just seen: the red scarf was menstrual blood, "you can see by the way she pushed it down the leg of her pants so it came out the bottom." There was some suggested masturbation, upon which the mask was removed, as if "that's when she is truly herself and not presenting a false face to the world." And that the whole piece "echoed the usual feminine complaints about men and a man's world."

Whether or not that was the intent, I decided I was a poor excuse for a feminist and that my beau could stand in for me at a feminist art happening anytime.

A snap frozen moment in Osaka - if you like, read about why I think this
captures one aspect of quintessential modern Japan here
Googling Vernita's site reveals a long (30+ years) history with feminist art. When you click on "About"  hoping for a neat elevator speech on what you just saw that you can lazily paste in a blog, you're instead presented with a long list of links. Wait, there's a précis of her performance art here, alluding to her inspiration from the avante-garde Fluxus movement of the 60's ("a reductive gesturality, part Dada, part Bauhaus and part Zen") of which Yoko Ono is a notable associate.  There was a distinct Japanese aura to the evening - the butoh, the presence of fellow artist Masayo and her show in the next room, the spectre of a Yoko Ono peer somehow transported me back to that Shimuzu Geiko theater in Hiroshima. Being a Japanophile ever since I knew I was meant to stumble in there. 
Chains and blood greet you inside


I hear some factions of the art world are snobbish about "co-op" galleries, likening them to vanity press. Well, tell Justin Bieber that. This is the era of "getting everything you can out of all you got" and co-op or not, I am thrilled to announce that after an almost knock-down drag-out argument with my beau about why you should buy a piece of art (because you like it vs. because someone says you should like it)  I am now the delighted owner of Masayo Nishimura's Osaka stripmall photo




Continuing a stroll around the nabe, I popped into the
Caroline Walker "Vantage Point" show at Ana Cristea Gallery, where the English painter depicts the kinds of scenes we bad bachelorettes get up given our own space. Like mincing around the living room in sheer underwear, or gazing at ourselves  half naked in full length mirrors since no-one else is around to do it, or leaving the trash bag like a blue blob in the kitchen while we surf just one more website, or eating cereal over the sink at 1am (not depicted but you get the idea).
Ana Cristea and a Sarah Walker in rubber glove mode.
Ana is a delightful Romanian, who I stumbled upon when I was surfing around for paintings by a Leipzig artist you might call a "Natural Disaster Aftermathist" due to his penchant for painting collapsed buildings - Ulf Puder

Ulf Puder – Niedrigwasser, 2010
oil on canvas
20 x 23.5 in / 50 x 60 cm
From the press release: Born in Leipzig in 1958, Ulf Puder was a member of the now-famed first generation to graduate from the Leipziger Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst. Along with Neo Rauch, also a member of this first  generation, Puder was uniquely successful in melding East-German neo-realism with a more imaginative, dreamlike, even surrealistic vocabulary. His work is greatly admired by and has had a tremendous influence on a younger generation of Eastern European artists.  

Ulf's work is arresting - I first locked onto his rickety world a while back on spotting an entrancing painting at Claire Oliver Gallery's "The Antidote", and never forgot it. It popped up again just recently:

Claire Oliver is custodian of an Ulf Puder I've been stalking ...
Ulf Puder | Boe
Oil on Linen
23.5 x 23.5 x 1 inches
Need more Ulf? Take a look here.

The big NY Art Fairs happen this week. See you at Pulse, The Armory Show and as many more as you can stand, and of course, the hardworking galleries in Chelsea. To never miss an opening, art lover Isabelle Schneider, who I found loitering with intent in the empty corridors of 511 W 25th close to reception closing time, offered this handy cheatsheet: 

artcards.cc, artslant, artcat.net, douglass kelley show list, ny art beat and wagmag (for Brooklyn). Yayah!



PS:  I discovered the massive Phillips de Pury auction viewing room for the first time last weekend. O.M.G. It's like a giant, Costco-sized bag of Krinkle Kut to a Kettle Chip addict. Here's a photo from my birthday in 2009, where we sat on the Highline and watched this guy boing back and forth with a scale model (for sale at $29.99 in the MOMA shop?). More about PdP next post. 

Phillips de Pury in Chelsea, Manhattan: the view from the Highline, 2009
Couldn't resist this shot! 


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