12 Must-See Events at Performa 15

Because you can't possibly see everything.

Laura Lima, Gala Chickens and Ball. Photo: Courtesy Performa.

We’ve been looking forward to the Renaissance-inspired Performa 15 since last year’s celebratory gala at the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank, and the biennial event is finally upon us! From November 1–22, performance art will take over New York City, with events springing up everywhere from Pioneer Works to the streets of lower Manhattan in the wee hours of the morning. And as much time as we’ve all had to plan, perusing the calendar is always more than a little daunting.

While playing a game of “how many can you make it to” is fun, most of us know that only the superhuman beings among us, like Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg, can really succeed at that game. So, accepting your fate as a mere mortal, we offer a tailored list of performances that will ensure you’ll see some of the best of what this unique month-long biennial has to offer.

Francesco Vezzoli and David Hallberg, Fortuna Desperata, November 1 at St. Bart’s Church 
This invite-only performance will kick off the biennial in style, with a VIP dinner and a list of expected guests that includes former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris Carine Roitfeld, artist Cindy Sherman, and Garage Museum-founder Dasha Zhukova. Set inside the majestic St. Bart’s church, artist Francesco Vezzoli and American ballet dancer David Hallberg’s Renaissance-inspired dance collaboration (exploring the origins of ballet during the Italian Renaissance) is sure to be a spectacular event. And if you’re not on the list for the first performance of the night, there is a second one at 9:30pm that will only run you $250.

Eleonora Fabião, Things That Must Be Done Series, November 1–7, various locations 
Brazilian artist Eleonora Fabião will take to the streets of lower Manhattan with a diverse group of performers—aged 20 to 60—as part of a series of “actions” that seeks to dissipate social, economic, and political polarities through art. The first part of the series, which takes place from November 1–5, is a kind of “urban acupuncture” in which Fabião and her collaborators will erect a series of twelve-foot bamboo poles and color fields into transient arrangements. On November 6, Fabião will randomly distribute her book Actions in public locales throughout the city, and on November 7, she will hold a roundtable discussion at the Performa Hub.

Pauline Curnier Jardin, The Resurrection Plot, November 4–6 at Pioneer Works
Amsterdam-based French artist Pauline Curnier Jardin will enact a series of highly stylized, singing tableaux vivants that draw from sources as strange and diverse as witchcraft, voguing, precious stones, and the animal kingdom, all with a nod to the carnivalesque. A celebration of Renaissance-era misfits like Arcimboldo and Rabelais, Cunier Jardin will use text, lighting, costume, soundtrack, and props to take over the hip Red Hook art space.

Juliana Huxtable.  Photo: Courtesy Performa.

Juliana Huxtable.
Photo: Courtesy Performa.

Wyatt KahnWork, November 5–8 at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre
Wyatt Kahn will take on the role of puppetmaster in this tongue-in-cheek performance featuring several of Kahn’ paintings in puppet form, providing a critique of his work in the style of a daytime talk show. This humorous, complex window into the self-flagellating mind of an artist seeks to generate conversation between the artist, the artwork (both literally and figuratively), and the audience.

Jérôme Bel, Ballet (New York), November 6–19, various locations
Acclaimed French conceptual choreographer Jérôme Bel will return to Performa with a new work devised specifically for New York City. Unfolding over the course of the biennial, Bel’s performance will take place in three unique venues: Marian Goodman Gallery, El Museo del Barrio, and the Martha Graham Studio Theater. Using both trained and untrained performers of all ages, Bel will play with the way each of these settings influences the audience’s “feel” of the dance.

Robin Rhode, Arnold Schönberg’s Erwartung, November 7–8 in Times Square
With Times Square as a backdrop, Robin Rhode will perform Austrian composer Arnold Schönberg’s atonal opera Erwartung (Expectation), transforming it to reflect the experiences of women separated from their families due to migrant labor, political exile, and imprisonment. Described by Schönberg himself as a “30-second anxiety attack extended musically into a 30-minute opera,” Erwartung is an exercise in understanding the realities of pain and perseverance.

Juliana Huxtable, There Are Certain Facts That Cannot Be Disputed, November 13–14 at Museum of Modern Art
Artist, writer, and nightlife impresario Juliana Huxtable will use music, video, and light to create three vignettes that address the conflicting realities of historical documentation in cyberspace. Huxtable envisions the digital world as both a vital resource for traditionally discarded narratives as well as a “virtual twilight zone of desire” in which music, video, and the presence of human and digital characters come together to create an immersive experience that is simultaneously real and unreal.

Oscar Murillo, Lucky Dip, November 16–22 at Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House
The “spiritual successor” to his critically panned 2014 chocolate factory installation at David Zwirner Gallery, Oscar Murillo’s Lucky Dip will transform the historic location into a kind of temporary residence, where questions about labor exploitation, emerging economies, and outsourced industry will be posed through various performances and installations. Given Murillo’s coveted market status, this is sure to be a sought-after event, though the midday scheduling might make it difficult for all but true aficionados to attend.

Agatha Gothe-Snape, Rhetorical Chorus (LW), November 18 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture
Inspired by a chance encounter with the legendary conceptual artist Lawrence Wiener, Agatha Gothe-Snape will present an improvised choral performance in the byzantine tradition of cheironomia—a musical system notated by hand gestures—accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation. The homage ultimately seeks to explore the role of the physical body in accepting and transmitting knowledge.

Edgar Arceneaux, Until, Until, Until... Photo: Courtesy Performa.

Edgar Arceneaux, Until, Until, Until…
Photo: Courtesy Performa.

Laura Lima, Gala Chickens and Ball, November 17–22 at 350 Broadway
A combination of two previously enacted performances, Gala Chickens and Ball will unfold over the course of several days, during which preparations like decor, floral arrangements, catering, and costumes will be put into place for a gala finale that will occur on November 21 featuring ornamental chickens, artfully decorated in a dazzling array of feathers. Along with a cast of both invited and uninvited guests, the chickens will serve as instigators and central actors that point to a degree of absurdity lying just under the surface of everyday life.

Edgar Arceneaux, Until, Until, Until…, November 20–22 at 3-DL, 80 Greenwich Street
Edgar Arceneaux’s first live work will investigate the infamous 1981 televised performance by Broadway icon Ben Vereen, which was bizarrely shown during Ronald Reagan’s inaugural celebration and censored for the television audience, causing Vereen’s biting commentary on the history of segregation to be lost entirely on most viewers. Arceneaux’s performance will restage some of the footage that never aired that night, creating an opportunity to reconsider our collective understanding of historic events.

Grand Finale at the Hotel Americano, November 22
Performa 15 will close with the presentation of the Malcolm McLaren Award, awarded to an artist whose contribution to the biennial represents the musician’s “risk-taking, irreverent spirit.” The $10,000 cash prize and Marc Newson-designed award will be presented by McLaren’s life partner Young Kim and punk icon Richard Hell.


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