Performa Gala Raises Funds, Artists, Tempers

Dakota Jackson (left) and Jerry Saltz (right)


Hundreds of supporters of Performa, the performance art biennial, gathered last night at Midtown Manhattan’s Stage 37 to raise over $450,000 to support the November 2013 edition. The unusual evening featured a Dalí-inspired menu, a high-spirited performance by Ryan McNamara and a troupe of dancers, bearded ballerinas hanging from the ceiling, and a costuming station offering accessories by fashion designer Lika Volkova for attendees’ black-and-white outfits.

The night’s honoree was Milly Glimcher, art historian and wife of Pace Gallery president Arne Glimcher. She was recognized for having organized the acclaimed Pace exhibition “Happenings: New York, 1958–1963” (Feb. 10-Mar. 17), which focused on documentation of that seminal period for performance art.

“I hate being the center of attention,” Glimcher told A.i.A., “so this is pretty uncomfortable. But it’s really thrilling and very moving to be recognized.”

Last night’s event, dubbed Relâche—The Party, was a tribute to artist Francis Picabia and composer Erik Satie, co-organizers of the ballet Relâche, staged in Paris in 1924.

“With every bite a bit of history, I always say,” Performa founding director RoseLee Goldberg told A.i.A. in reference to the historical focus of each Performa gala dinner.

The title of the Picabia-Satie opera is a Dadaist joke; relâche means “canceled.” As it happens, the Performa gala was re-scheduled from Nov. 1 due to Superstorm Sandy. This came to seem like a cosmic coincidence, since the 1924 performance was also postponed due to a dancer being injured.

“We’ve all had to think about what it means to be raising money at a time when people are suffering in such real ways,” Goldberg said in her remarks. “It’s because art is essential for survival.”

Re: Re: Re: Relâche was McNamara’s interpretation of the ballet, and featured a troupe of stylish male dancers who stripped down to white leotards. McNamara, in a suit, circulated among them, affixing colored dots to their bodies as they gyrated, until they surrounded him at the front of the stage, where he was fitted into a harness and ropes and hoisted 30 feet into the air. There he dangled throughout dinner. He was eventually lowered to the floor and escorted away in a wheelchair.

Surprise guest Belgian actor and producer Ronald Guttman created some tension during his time onstage. As tuxedo-clad conductor Luciano Chessa led an ensemble performing Satie’s music behind him, Guttman took the microphone, shouting, “Je suis fou du vin au chocolat!” and repeatedly asked Chessa to shut up, telling the musicians, “You know, you’re really starting to annoy me.” Responding to Chessa’s indignation, Guttman reprimanded him, “Try not to be so predictable. We’re here to make some fucking action!”

When Guttman demanded the music be played louder, Chessa handed him the baton, and Guttman conducted for a few moments. “But there’s only so much you can do with a piccolo,” Chessa told A.i.A. later, confirming that their banter, though it produced some squirming among the audience, was all in good fun.

Guttman pledged $15,000 to bring Salvador Dalí to New York for Performa in 2013. His precise meaning was unclear, as the artist has been deceased since 1989.

Sotheby’s senior vice president Aileen Agopian led the auction portion of the evening, in which New York money manager and art collector Glenn Fuhrman appeared to beat out a sole competitor to purchase a dinner cooked by Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija for 10 guests at the buyer’s home. He got the event for a steal at $9,000 but declined to confirm whether he was the buyer. A Rudolf Stingel sculpture of a chair, made from reflective insulation material Celotex from one of his wall pieces, did better; it brought $30,000 from an anonymous buyer. Snatched up for $10,000 by an unidentified attendee was an edition of Liz Magic Laser’s 2011 Performa commission, I Feel Your Pain.

Attendees, meanwhile, munched on sea urchin ceviche, stuffed snails, peacock a l’imperiale and other decadent menu items. “I’ve never been so excited about a beet,” said Performa staffer Adrienne Edwards. Many of Volkova’s accessories became conversation pieces, including the Styrofoam head she strapped to one man’s cranium. (“I’d lose my head if it weren’t attached” was the idea, according to the designer.) “One of the themes is attaching an additional person onto people,” Volkova told A.i.A. “The Picabia ballet was a bit erotic. It was not dry.”

Talking with A.i.A. about his hourlong ordeal hanging from the ceiling, McNamara noted that from that vantage point, he was able to watch his dancers posing for photographs and cavorting with guests at a photo studio on a balcony, manned by Brooklyn-based photographer Jonathan Hokklo. “They were having a grand old time,” he said, playfully resentful. “I was, like, ‘Bitches!'”