The art of parties and beyond

Performa, Francesco Vezzoli, Casey Spooner
NOVEMBER 2-4, 2007
A performance evaluation by Haidee Findlay-Levin...

I have always been a big fan of performance art, so I was thrilled to hear that the second Performa biennial was in town. Through November 20, more than 90 artists—both established and emerging—will appear at numerous institutions. Organized by performance-art guru Roselee Goldberg, Performa 07 includes not only a slew of shows and art events, but also panel discussions, online streaming and, of course, late-night get-togethers at various bars.

Ten commissioned works are the cornerstone of the biennial, including an ambitious project by Italian provocateur Francesco Vezzoli, whose one-night restaging of Luigi Pirandello's 1917 play Right You Are (If You Think You Are) kicked off the festival in the rotunda of the Guggenheim. I had never seen the museum quite so packed, and I soon realized why. Besides Vezzoli's cult following (remember his well-publicized Caligula film piece at the Whitney?), Hollywood celebs and fashion stars turned out in droves, with Vezzoli himself sitting front-and-center with Miuccia Prada. Looming high were larger-than-life projections of Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Ellen Burstyn and Dianne Wiest performing from the script.

The play was in three acts, throughout which Cate Blanchett sat still with her back to the audience, until her entrance at the very end—a moment worth waiting for. She silently stood up, left the viewing room and walked past the Richard Prince retrospective to the bottom of the spiraling rotunda, where, closing the play, she gave a short but stunning script-free monologue.

My next involvement with Performa was more personal. I ran into artist and blockmate, Christian Jankowski, whose rooftop performance, The Hula Hoopers, was to take place Saturday morning. Christian was scouting rooftops in the area on which his 27 hula hoopers could perform. I obliged, leading him up to my "no access" roof to see if it was, in fact, accessible. Success. So at 10:00 am on Saturday, I met my friend Benjamin Liu (I knew Benjamin would be just as enthusiastic about hula hoops, even at this early, cold and windy hour) and we made our way to Christian's to see the show. The first "hooper" appeared on a distant rooftop and began her rhythmic hooping. Within moments another girl appeared directly in front of us, followed by another and another, all hooping at a synchronized pace. Soon it was like spotting Waldo as we took in the 360-degree view of rooftops from as far as Allen Street. We laughed when we saw an imposter hooper in a courtyard below. It was all so delightful to watch, and such a great example of the transient yet powerful nature of performance.

Earlier in the weekend, as an antidote to all the fashion events of the previous week, I headed to The Wooster Group's experimental production of Hamlet, its first stab at Shakespeare. The highly original staging and a huge video projection of Richard Burton (the definitive Hamlet) formed the backdrop, and reminded us that no performance of Hamlet (performed here by Scott Shepard), no matter how modern, exists on its own without the context of performances past. Casey Spooner of Fischerspooner, meanwhile, played not only Laertes, but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as well.

Sunday night was the last of five Morrissey concerts at the Hammerstein Ballroom—and it didn't disappoint. The crooner's renditions of classic Smiths songs and his more recent solo hits, accompanied by his suave maneuverings around the stage, were flawless. His voice and lyrics were as distinctive and clear as ever. At concert's end, as I emerged from my escape into nostalgia, my only regret was not being there (like so many others) for the preceding four shows.

Although scarred by the childhood costumes my mother created for me (corn on the cob—this is no lie!), I attempted a little Halloween performance of my own. A friend and I wondered what it would be like to be famous for a night, so we decked ourselves out as the Olsens. We had long dirty-blonde wigs expertly cut by a hairstylist friend, complete with applied visible roots, and raided my closet for oversized clothes—a fur chubby for "Ashley" and over-oversized matching glasses. We grabbed our large Venti Starbucks cups and took our practiced pouts and slouches onto the crazy costumed streets of New York. First we hit the V party at The Gramercy, then The Bowery, and no one, not ever our friends, recognized our true identities. Fame, at last!

—Haidee Findlay-Levin



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