Off the Wall at the Whitney

Trisha Brown Dance Company at the Whitney Museum, 1971, photo by Walter Gutman, courtesy Anthology Film Archives

From July 1st through September 19th, the Whitney Museum of American Art presents Off the Wall, a two-part exhibition that brings together thirty performative actions by artists, in works made from 1946 to the present, and seven iconic works by Trisha Brown.  One of these works, Skymap (1969), was performed at the Dia:Beacon this past winter.

Part I: Thirty Performative Actions
On view from July 1 – September 19, Off the Wall: Thirty Performative Actions, focuses on actions using the body in live performance, in front of the camera, or in relation to a photograph or a drawing. Each action displaces the site of the artwork from an object to the body, acting in relation to, or directly onto, the physical space of the gallery. The wall and floor are often the stage for these actions: walking on the wall, slamming a door, gathering sawdust up from the studio floor, slapping hands against the wall, walking on a painting, striding and crawling, writing or drawing on the wall and the floor, or performing a striptease. The actions include re-performances of iconic early works by John Baldessari (I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art, (1971) and Yoko Ono (Painting to be Stepped On, (1961), realized by Nate Lowman), as well as recent works by young artists including Dara Friedman and Trisha Donnelly, and David Hammons’ video installation Phat Feet, in which the sidewalk of the Bowery in downtown New York City becomes the stage.

Also included are works by Vito Acconci, Carl Andre, Jonathan Borofsky, John Coplans, David Hammons, Joan Jonas, Paul McCarthy, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Dennis Oppenheim, David Salle, Lucas Samaras, Richard Serra, and Andy Warhol. The use of the performative action by women to challenge male definitions of the body can be seen in works by Jenny Holzer, Dara Birnbaum, Martha Rosler, Hannah Wilke, Francesca Woodman, Carrie Mae Weems and Carolee Schneemann. The unprecedented crossover between dance and performance that occurred in the 1970s can also be seen in works by Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Maya Deren, Simone Forti, and Nauman.

The exhibition includes a number of works that reveal the underlying theatricality of the performative action, and the ways in which artists stage the self in images that question conventions of identity, gender, and perceptions of the body. In the work of artists including Laurie Simmons, Robert Longo, Cindy Sherman, Tony Oursler and Sonic Youth, Francesca Woodman, Jimmy DeSana, David Wojnarowicz, Peter Hujar, Jack Pierson, Lyle Ashton Harris and Robert Mapplethorpe, the camera replaces the white cube of the gallery as the stage upon which action occurs.

Part 1 is curated by Chrissie Iles, the Whitney’s Anne & Joel Ehrenkranz Curator.

Part 2: Seven Works by Trisha Brown
Part 2
features the Trisha Brown Dance Company, on the occasion of the company’s fortieth anniversary. Six dance works and a sound installation made in the late 1960s and early 1970s will be presented. The dance works will be performed daily from September 30 through October 3, 2010, in the Second Floor Galleries, the Sculpture Court, and outside the Whitney Museum of American Art on East 75th Street. Trisha Brown’s history with the Whitney began when the now-acclaimed choreographer first brought her work uptown, to the Whitney’s Breuer building, after having debuted much of her work in downtown Manhattan, in Soho and at the Judson Church, among other places. Some of Brown’s most important early works including Walking on the Wall (1970), Leaning Duets II (1971), Falling Duet I (1968), Falling Duet II (1971), and Skymap (1969), were performed at the Whitney on March 30 and 31, 1971, as part of an evening titled “Another Fearless Dance Concert.” They are all re-presented in this exhibition. When asked recently about her relationship to the Whitney, Brown commented, “The Whitney? I was born there!”

Part 2 is curated by Limor Tomer, the Whitney’s Adjunct Curator of Performing Arts.

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