Rory Pilgrim


at Paul Andriesse


Rory Pilgrim, a 23-year-old Bristol-born artist, is best known in the Netherlands for the choral performance he staged a year ago on the steps of the entrance to the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. In it, women and children sang, in an air Pilgrim composed, “What has made this building last?” (also the title of the piece). In fact, the entrance was due to be closed forever—a bone of contention between the city and the museum. Moreover, in using women performers, the artist called attention to the historic appointment of the museum’s first female and non-Dutch director, the American Ann Goldstein.

As part of his new installation and performance at Andriesse, titled The Rainbow, Pilgrim again enlisted a choral group—this time a four-person ensemble singing, on opening night, an arrangement of “The Day After That,” from Kander and Ebb’s 1992 musical, Kiss of the Spiderwoman. The rainbow is a well-known emblem of the international gay and lesbian community, a fact that is key to Pilgrim’s use of it in the title.

Among the show’s objects, the artist commissioned a commercial sign maker in England to create two hand-painted posters. The first was framed and hung centrally on a specially installed freestanding wall that half-blocked the entrance at the same time as it invited entry with the words, “come in, you’re welcome,” painted in a circle. Albeit generic-sounding, the phrase is a quote from a Quaker outreach poster, as we were told on the invitation. In altogether different, colorful, somewhat florid calligraphy reminiscent of that seen often in popular religious printed matter, a second poster at the end of the main space read, “I guess we are not ready for this yet, are we?” The rhetorical question is a quote taken from a 2009 sermon by the pro-gay American pastor Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye), speaking about gay and lesbian marriage.

On the floor in the main space lay a Moroccan rag rug. Every quarter hour, a small black radio next to it blurted out Liza Minnelli’s 1993 rendition of “The Day After That,” which became an anthem for AIDS protesters. It was also a trace of the live performance that had taken place during the exhibition’s opening.

These simple elements convey double meanings. The phrases on the posters may be read generically—as a greeting and question—but they are also quotes taken from non-secular contexts. “The Day After That” is a song from the musical as well as a protest hymn. The rug might be a household object or a Muslim prayer mat. Pilgrim assembles objects with associations both sacred and secular, theatrical and mundane. And by uniting homosex-uality and religion under the rainbow, the artist, himself gay, indirectly asks for understanding, acceptance and tolerance.

Photo: View of Rory Pilgrim’s installation and performance The Rainbow, 2011; at Paul Andriesse.