Action! at Zilkha by Armani White

Performance Now is an exhibition curated by RoseLee Goldberg in association with Wesleyan’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP). Hosted by the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, this showcase is meant to celebrate visual art performance and its prominence in the 21st century.

When I arrived, the Zilkha gallery was empty other than the host of the exhibit, allowing me to explore the scene with no interruptions. The large, white-walled, dimly lit room was filled with an assortment of displays, all humming with energy. I first noticed an Allora & Calzadilla piece projected onto a white wall. Any visitor to the gallery had no choice but to interact with the piece of art because in order to enter the gallery one must first step in front of the projection, creating a sense of collocation between the performance and the viewer. No one individual could help but to watch the video of a pianist moving throughout a room of similarly amazed onlookers, deconstructing a Beethoven tune from within a hole inside the piano. This work, “Stop, Repair, Prepare” was not the only one that forced the viewer to interact with the setup. In a similar fashion, Christian Jankowski’s work, a projection of a hula hoop dance tutorial plastered onto a wall, I had no choice but to laugh in joy as I picked up one of the many colorful, unique hula hoops lining the floor and took my turn at learning the dance. For a moment, I forgot that I was within the walls of the Zilkha gallery, a visitor to the Performance Now exhibition, and I felt as if I were one of the people in the piece “Rooftop Routine”, methodically balancing the loop on my waist. No matter where one would walk within the gallery, every piece of art asked the viewer to interact, in some way, with the piece. While one work called spectators from across the room with the loud sound of opera, others required you to sit down, put on a pair of headphones, and immerse yourself into a routine.

In my first visit to the exhibit, I was exhausted by the amount of works and the time each one required. The layout of the exhibit commands the observer to constantly sit down, stand up, and move about the maze of televisions and installations. By the end of my first outing I felt as if by visiting the exhibit itself, I had taken part in a performance. I returned to the exhibit a second time, full of energy and began to notice more details of the functioning. The blue lights that lined the ceiling contrasted with the faintly lit white walls gave a calm feeling to the hall, but the noises and lights produced by the works created the sense of a cinematic experience. It was hard to deny that a lot was going on. “Anthology” by Clifford Owens stood out to me in my second trip because of how silent, yet ostentatious the presentation felt. In one large photograph, Clifford Owens stands tall with a cloud of what appears to be flour, exploding from above him. His video-performance element, which was displayed on a flat screen next to the digital picture, challenged me to think of how an artists work is informed by and through other artists; Clifford Owens lay sprawled, naked in the middle of a large defined area, while other artists pulled and pushed his body into whatever shape they felt necessary. Although in this work I did not have to exert energy to participate physically, I was still viewing and mentally processing what I viewed, allowing me to interact conceptually with the performance itself.

Whether through photographs, sculpture, or projected images, all the pieces in Performance Now had unique elements of enactment and performance. RoseLee Goldberg did an amazing job of compiling an assortment of distinctive artists and diverse creations. Having had never been introduced to performance art before, this exhibit did a tremendous job of educating visitors, as well as keeping them engaged in different ways. The gallery was able to stimulate the mind, while at times allowing the visitor to escape into the world of the works. Many of the pieces required up to 45 minutes of observation, yet the gallery was not overwhelming. I would recommend Performance Now to any individual who wants to experience an art gallery that not only allows you to interact with the subject, but also compels you to.