“Dance, choreography, performance—our turf has become somewhat the baby of museums, biennales, etc. … it’s flattering to be invited, but it’s only when we get invited a second time that something starts to happen. It’s not enough to be cute. How do we make ourselves uncute? … How do we [not] fall victim to somebody with more power? … We have a job, I consider. When we get an invitation from the museum and do a little dance—no. This is exactly to stay on the cute factor. … We know the programs department in the museum is very important… [because] we consume exhibitions. The reason we have a programs department is to make us come back to the museum even though the Richard Prince exhibition [we already saw] is still going on. It’s about the economy, simple as that. Not that we are so amazing as choreographers. No. … If we know this, we can make demands. … It’s not we that need the museums, but the museums that need us. We’re sitting on the chance of a lifetime. ”
Thus spoke Mårten Spångberg*, Sunday afternoon at MoMA PS 1, as part of the museum’s new Sunday Sessions series. Yes, that series, the one that comes with a hulking new geodesic Performance Dome, which dominates the gravel courtyard like some weirdo alien egg about to spew its potentially-deadly-to-life-as-we-know-it contents all over the place. God save Long Island City.
(*Please note that all Spångberg quotes are approximations, as the man talks a mile a minute and moves effortlessly between smart, senseless, stupid, provocative, whimsical, incomprehensible, funny, etc. Depending on your point of view, this is part of the man’s charm, or a brilliant/cynical strategy, or testament to the current bankruptcy of intellectual discourse in the Western world. Or something. Me, I go back and forth and round and round. It’s exhausting. Note taking suffers.)
Mårten was there touting his new book, Spangbergianism, which he describes, on the back cover, as a performance, “put together over sixty four days as a form of rehearsal during which every day resulted in a showing [forbid them] in the shape of a blog-post.”
Well, this sounds very good. Unless you think of the whole history of serial writing in books, online publishing and the like. Shall I now say I am choreographing, thereby opening up new vistas for that art form? Mmmmmm. No. This is just slightly too facile. And, really, too cute. (Sort of like another of his claims, one often spouted these days, that the age of the object has ended and the age of performance now reigns. Painting is dead! Again!)
This isn’t to say that I disagree with many of his points, in particular those having to do with the institutional art world’s current lather for performance. The Whitney, for example, has repeatedly emphasized that this Biennial is never happening all at one time; in order to get a true sense of its contours and contents, visitors must return and return. The performance residencies and showings on the fourth floor are a large part of this. I am a huge fan of Sarah Michelson and Richard Maxwell, but I’m not so sure about the context, if any, that the Whitney is proposing as rationale for their inclusion in this Biennial, beyond that what they do is inherently fleeting (And Michael Clark? In 2012? Really?). The visual art crowd present for the opening of Michelson’s work was visibly restless and at times uncomfortable: the two men next to me started giggling as soon as a shirtless man appeared on stage, and there was a continuous trickle of audience attrition.
I thought of this when Mårten talked about choreographers doing their little dances whenever the museums come calling. And of course I thought of the ridiculous Performance Dome outside, which is not about anything other than upping visitor attendance. The discrepancy between how far in advance museum shows are planned, and how they are integrated within the institution, versus the random, often entirely last-minute planning around Sunday Sessions, says it all (though I am optimistic about Jenny Schlenzka). As does the fact that the Performance Dome isn’t actually connected to the museum’s actual architecture. The barbarians are inside the gate, but barely.
Mårten himself wiggled inside, to the second floor. There he gave a very politely rebellious speech (compare this to how Ann Liv Young infamously destabilized PS1 a couple of years ago). Everyone could feel good about attending it. And then we could all go to the experimental dance party happening in the dome, which Mårten very kindly plugged upon ending his rallying cry. To the ramparts! Drinks in hand….