Performance Art in NYC

Artsology ventured into NYC to visit art galleries in the Chelsea arts district, and was surprised to see several "performance art" pieces taking place.

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The first was what appeared to be an unofficial street performance of someone acting as if he were the famous 1980's artist Jean-Michel Basquiat; when we say "unofficial," we mean we don't think it was an art gallery sponsored performance, but rather the work of an independent artist or some actors.

The location was specifically chosen, I'd guess, because a gallery on this particular street was having an exhibition of paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat at the time. The performance taking place on the street included an actor pretending to be Jean-Michel making a painting, being overseen by another character whom we interpreted to either be an art dealer (Bruno Bischofsberger, perhaps?), or a wealthy art collector. Inside the gallery, the woman at the front desk said "no, they're not affiliated with this show. But they've been out there doing that all day!"

actors pretending to be Basquait and Bruno Bischofsberger, doing a performance art piece in Chelsea

Below are more pictures of this performance ... the guy with the yellow hat is filming them, but the actors are not interacting with this "director" and there are no words being spoken. Meanwhile, people are standing around, doing their own thing and somewhat ignoring the scene, while others (including us) are watching, waiting to see what will happen.

a performance art piece in the streets of NYC, featuring an actor playing Jean-Michel Basquiat

The two characters continue to interact without using any words, "Basquiat" is focused on making his painting, while the other guy stares over his shoulder as he paints. Then "Basquiat" starts another painting on the ground, using paint from a small paper cup. What's this all about?

actors staging a scene featuring Jean-Michel Basquiat painting on the streets of NYC

The next performance piece that we encountered on this day was in a gallery, featuring a cast that was going through some sort of ritual that had us perplexed as well. As we entered the gallery, a number of characters with paint splattered on themselves are standing around as someone is directing them, other people are watching ... it's hard to determine how many people beyond the painted people are involved.

a mysterious performance art piece performed in a NYC art gallery, with people covered in paint

Then all of a sudden, all of the painted characters stand on a box, and a plaid-shirted man approaches, and they start to grab him, and lift ... and the culmination of this performance is the plaid shirt man high above their heads, "flying" through the air! What does it all mean? What is one to think when they walk off the street and into a gallery and see this happening? There's no obvious explanation in the gallery.

an unexplainable, wacky performance art piece seen in a NYC art gallery, with painted people raised in the air

We later learn that the artist responsible for this is Oliver Herring, a German-born artist now living and working in Brooklyn. According to our research, his performances in this particular venue included volunteer participants performing in situations that he designs but does not totally control. The performances are recorded with photographs and video, and then are installed in the gallery, so that over the course of the exhibition, the gallery fills with more and more material, evolving as each day goes by. This now becomes a little more interesting to us than just the perspective of a flying man! What do you think?

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