Archive | Art History

Some stuff from the part of art history I took part in.

One of My Few Sorties as a Teacher

Today I came across an article from the L.A. Times archives about one of my few adventures into academe. Steven Durland and I were tapped to take over a performance class at UC Irvine in 1988. It made the news. (And it’s Greden, not Greeden.) – LB

Performance Art: It Still Has Its Rogue Element

March 07, 1988|Allan Jalon

Performance art, once a frontier for the avant-garde, has become institutionalized. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still lively. Meet Phillip Torqueflite Greeden, student performance artist. At UC Irvine, back in the early ’70s, art students helped pioneer the growth of performance in defiance of their teachers’ more traditional, more materialistic art forms. These days, performance is a credit subject at UCI, and Greeden’s teachers say he’s a star pupil. Well, they don’t exactly put it that way.

“Phil’s on a level of his own,” said Linda Frye Burnham, one of Greeden’s two teachers in the current performance class. “I’m going to try and give Phil an ‘A’ in my course,” added Burnham, founder and former editor of High Performance magazine, a Los Angeles publication that chronicles the performance movement. “My only problem is that there was some foul-up or something, and he hasn’t managed to get registered yet. That’s Phil.”

Greeden is a young man with several days’ blond facial growth and the supple physique of a young walrus. He favors Hawaiian shirts and crosses the campus with the good-natured momentum of a ward heeler, with a smile that feeds on yells of “Hey, Phil” from his peers. His best-known performance to date was a collaboration with Dan Goodsell, another of the 11 registered performance students. And what creation won the team of Greeden and Goodsell its accolades? It was a ‘Truman for President’ rally, countered by some pro-Dewey forces, in front of the campus Administration Building last month. The Harry Truman group consisted of the performance class and several passers-by; the Thomas Dewey forces included seven Greeden cohorts who belong to a student poets group named Tired of Waiting For Godot/Shaman Garden.

For the bewildered, some background: Burnham and Steve Durland, her teaching partner and editor of High Performance, had assigned the class to come up with pieces that would take them outside and would engage members of the public. Greeden’s work was inspired by an old record he owns of presidential inauguration speeches. “It also struck me that Harry Truman was the only president who really had the total professional experience of being President,” Greeden said. “He pushed the button!”

Greeden, a senior (give or take a few credits), is an engineering-turned-English-major who says he is torn between wanting to be an artist, a writer, a film maker or (“if I’m an utter failure at everything else”) an English teacher at a community college. Goodsell, also a senior, is a studio art major, a very serious young man with nervous brown eyes and a determination to make art his life. “Phil was the idea man and I did most of the visuals,” said Goodsell, who made masks from photographs of Truman’s face and posters that featured a photo collage of Truman and the familiar nuclear mushroom. The posters said “Harry Was a Good Man,” “Harry Was a Wise Man” and “Harry Was a Far-Rangin’ Man,” and Goodsell and Greeden flooded the campus with them a few days before the event. For 20 minutes on Feb. 19, the performance class stood in front of the Administration Building chanting “Back From the Dead to Fix Up Your Head.” The piece ended when an administrator emerged to complain about the noise. [Note from LB: We were all officially busted and forced to disperse.]

Other pieces produced by the class have included one in which a student named Joseph Choi performed a soulful ballet in front of two moody paintings of chairs, and one in which Vadim Erent, a UCI student from the Soviet Union, recited a poem titled “Giraffes” that had been written by the early 20th-Century Russian poet Nikolay Gumilyov. Before delivering the poem in Russian, Erent described it in heavily accented English. “It’s very cold, and not cheerful,” he told his classmates, without taking off his purple-rimmed sunglasses. “It is St. Petersburg and it is winter. The man reads a woman this poem about Africa. He tells her: ‘There are unthinkable grasses in Africa, but you will not know them. You are here. All you will know is the rain.’ ” The class seemed spellbound. The muted drama of Erent’s reading wove them into his culture.

Then, Greeden was back with an unvarnished dose of their own culture, his latest piece, “Our Friend the Carburetor.” Greeden and a co-performer, wearing masks cut from Xeroxed diagrams of a carburetor, danced about the room medicine man-style while waving wrenches. As a friend beat an oil drum, Greeden squirted beer from a hypodermic syringe. “I was sort of trying to connect the elements of car repair and ritual worship,” Greeden said.

Burnham wasn’t convinced. She said it wasn’t quite up to the high standard Greeden set for himself with the Truman rally. But she clearly was taken with his energy. “You have to understand Phil,” she said. “He’s very, very non-linear.”


Linda’s list of artspaces in So Cal 1975-1988

I was asked to create this list for something that never happened, but I thought I’d post it here for people who might be interested. Most of the info came from High Performance magazine. Names in parentheses are those of the founders, as far as I know. Pardon mistakes and omissions. Let me hear about additions, corrections. -LFB, 8/2014

Artspaces/performance spaces/alternative spaces — run by artists

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Another exciting new eBook — CETA and the Arts: Analyzing the Results of a Groundbreaking Federal Job Program

CETASteven Durland and I have just published a great eBook e-that contains crucial details about the most significant jobs program affecting artists in the past 70 years: CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act), a federal employment program active from1973 to 1981. The information in this book adds vital fuel to the current debate around the economic crisis and its impact on the arts. The $300 million per year spent on CETA arts at its height translates into nearly $800 million in today’s dollars, a really significant sum. Yet so little information has been accessible that the program is almost a-historical. The book makes available a government report detailing and analyzing the results of 15 CETA arts programs in different states across the U.S. The text has been digitized and is fully searchable. Available from the Kindle Store at Amazon for $2.99. Also visit the project’s Facebook page to comment. Published by Linda Frye Burnham and Steven Durland.

Images from York Chang’s “second life”

To accompany yesterday’s post about York Chang’s “second life” project at 18th St. Arts Center, summer 2011, here are some images:

chang inst

York Chang's "second life" installation at 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica, Calif., summer 2011


An artist/time/history continuum


"No History"


"second life" discussion in 18th Street's Project Room, July 23, 2011


High Performance #12½: The Corrections Issue

In summer 2011, artist (and lawyer) York Chang conducted a residency at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, Calif., titled “second life.”


York Chang's "Corrections Issue" of High Performance

Chang likes to mess with art history, and in this case he messed with High Performance magazine (1978-1998), which I founded in downtown Los Angeles and edited in tag-team with Steven Durland. For “second life,” Chang (with Fernando Sanchez) documented the activities of Artist Actualization Services (AAS), a performance art group allegedly active between 1979 and 1980. His documentation comprised an installation at 18th St. (former home of High Performance), plus a “new” issue of HP (#12½, Vol. 3, No. 5) and several public events.

Chang’s project virtually “proves” that a number of performances documented in HP during the late 1970s were not actually performed by the artists to whom they were credited, but by impostors: AAS members posing as those artists. In the “corrections issue,” AAS claims to have appropriated the artists’ identities (without – but sometimes with – the knowledge of the artists themselves) and inserted this fake information into art history through the pages of HP, specifically in the Artists Chronicle, a section of the magazine that appeared regularly during the first five years. The Chronicle featured artists documenting their own performances with a self-written description and a photo, plus date, place & time. It was crucial to me that art history include the artist’s voice.

HP #12½ looks exactly like an issue of High Performance, down to the cover stock, the typeface, the page design, the ads and the typos. It even cracks along the spine like an issue of HP. For this “new” issue AAS selects ten performances documented in HP’s Chronicle and presents them in a double-page spread. On the left is the documentary page as it appeared in HP at the time, ostensibly written by the artist; on the right is a “correction,” written by the poser, documenting how s/he chose the piece and carried it out in the persona of the artist.

The artists/victims are Ulysses Jenkins, Cheri Gaulke, Michael Berkowitz, Mike Kelley, Richard Prince, Paul McCarthy, The Waitresses, Bob & Bob, Chris Burden, and Jeffrey Mark Burdett.

Typical treatment is what happened to “Sex Is Stupid,” credited to Bob & Bob, but “actually performed by” AAS members James Norrell & Bert Conner at LAICA on June 30, 1979.

"Bob & Bob" in "Sex Is Stupid"

Norrell and Conner claim to have used subversive techniques (aided by John Duncan and Marc Pally) to literally steal all the paintings from Bob & Bob’s studio that were scheduled for a show at LACE in July, installed them at LAICA in June and sold them all during a performance  at $25 each. The performance component of the event was Bob & Bob “crucified” live to an oversize canvas and hung on the gallery wall, wearing masks of their own faces. But they weren’t Bob & Bob (who are, in truth, fake personae of artists Paul Velick & Francis Shishim); they were actually Norrell & Conner.

I found out about Chang’s project completely by accident. My friend Jerri Allyn was also conducting a residency at 18th Street at the same time as Chang, so she knew what was up. She e-mailed Chang that she would love to attend an upcoming Saturday project event. She suggested Chang invite me and Durland to take part in the project, and she copied the e-mail to me. I happened to be in L.A. at the time, babysitting my grandchildren in Topanga Canyon. I went immediately to Chang’s page on the 18th Street website and read about “second life.” I was at first appalled that he hadn’t told us anything about it, then deeply amused at the concept. I e-mailed Chang and told him I could come to the event. He called me and we got acquainted, then started plotting how I could conspire with him to convince Saturday’s audience that I was outraged and would be suing him ASAP.

When I got to the project gallery early on Saturday, I spent time with the installation and the magazine, which had me rolling on the floor. When it came time for the event, so few people showed up that we abandoned the fake outrage and simply discussed the project for a podcast. I was delighted to tell Chang and the others that there actually were several instances of people faking performances to get them documented in High Performance!

The moment was delicious for me. Much has been made about the artist’s voice in HP and the extensive documentation provided by the magazine. HP’s archive is at the Getty Research Institute and is playing a part in Pacific Standard Time, the Getty’s citywide project this fall about L.A. art history 1940-1980. Curator Jenni Sorkin recently did a thesis about the first five years of HP and curated an accompanying exhibition when she was at Bard College, and the show traveled to LACE a few years ago. It used a lot of the memorabilia in the Getty archive. It is especially delightful, even poignant, to see all this ephemeral performance going down in art history, considering I started the magazine on a $2,000 personal loan in my loft on Broadway in downtown L.A. Back then it was essentially a ‘zine and, come to think of it, an experiment in crowd-sourcing. It warms my heart to think that Paul McCarthy, Hermann Nitsch, Bob & Bob, The Waitresses and the Church of the SubGenius are tucked away in a major archive and in 300 art libraries all over the world. I can hardly wait to see if Issue #12½ winds up in some of those collections. ROF to the L.


The resourceful York Chang

If you want a copy of this “new issue” of High Performance, you’ll have to pry it away from York Chang. Try Chang’s website or contact 18th St. (There’s a Culture Monster review of the project in the L.A. Times.)





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