New York

Latin American Circle Presents: An Evening of Performances

Fifty years ago, in conversations with Robert Smithson, Allan Kaprow referred to museums as mausoleums, and proposed the Guggenheim be emptied of all of its contents and presented as a sculptural form. [1] Today, we still struggle with bringing life into museums. In particular, performance work can be conceptually fraught in the museum when artists have circumvented the commodification and rarefaction of art by creating ephemeral works designed for the context of the everyday and the accessibility of public space. However, museums can also archive works for future generations to appreciate (as has happened with Kaprow’s documents at the Guggenheim), give artists their due institutional respect, and even disrupt traditional museological models that prioritize stasis and physically disengaged viewers. While the museum context benefited some performances in “Latin American Circle Presents: An Evening of Performances” at the Guggenheim on May 5, it also formalized works that were intended to reverberate off of the social and political life of public space, drawing on larger questions of how major institutions support site-specific performance works and how the museum attempts to engage its public through event-based programming.

Amalia Pica. Asamble, 2015; performance. Courtesy of the Guggenheim. Photos: Enid Alvarez © Sol-omon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2017.

Amalia Pica. Asamble, 2015; performance. Courtesy of the Guggenheim. Photos: Enid Alvarez © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2017.

For Asamble (2015), the first performance of the evening, Amalia Pica’s twenty-nine performers slowly and methodically entered the museum’s rotunda while carrying folding metal, wood, and plastic chairs and stools. As the procession snaked through the rotunda and ramp, they formed almost complete circles with their seated chairs, only to pick them up and begin moving again. The rotunda’s spiral ramp offered viewers a striking, panoramic bird’s-eye view of the mesmerizing piece, which echoed the rotunda’s curves.

Amalia Pica. Asamble, 2015; performance. Courtesy of the Guggenheim. Photos: Enid Alvarez © Sol-omon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2017.

Amalia Pica. Asamble, 2015; performance. Courtesy of the Guggenheim. Photos: Enid Alvarez © Sol-omon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2017.

While Pica’s piece was formally beautiful in the museum, previous iterations of Asamble have been sited in public squares—Plaza de los Dos Congresos, Buenos Aires (2015), and Peckham Square, London (2016)—and to more conceptual ends. In these contexts, performances were free and open to all[2], such that viewers who stumbled upon them had to navigate the performers’ circular paths and motion, and were jolted out of their expected experience with public space. In Buenos Aires, the piece was performed in front of the Argentinian House of Congress, where the artist’s use of chairs and methodical movements mimicked the idea that having a seat at the table is part of collective rule and order. By comparison, the indoor iteration at the Guggenheim felt stilted—perhaps if performed across the street in Central Park, the work could have maintained its original spirit.

Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa’s A Brief History of Architecture in Guatemala (Breve Historia de la Arquitectura en Guatemala) (2010) began with three performers dressed in large, simply rendered white costumes that emulated architectural styles prevalent in Latin America: a Mesoamerican pyramid, a Spanish colonial church, and a Modernist block in reference to the Bank of Guatemala. The costumes call upon not only a specificity of place, but also of the histories of indigenous culture, colonization, and politically inspired Modernism.

Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa. A Brief History of Architecture in Guatemala (Breve Historia de la Arquitec-tura en Guatemala), 2010; performance. Courtesy of the Guggenheim. Photos: Enid Alvarez © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2017.

Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa. A Brief History of Architecture in Guatemala (Breve Historia de la Arquitectura en Guatemala), 2010; performance. Courtesy of the Guggenheim. Photos: Enid Alvarez © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2017. 

The architecturally adorned performers entered the rotunda’s floor by individually twirling down the ramp. With only their legs, arms, and faces poking of out their large and rigid costumes, the performers danced absurdly and rather elegantly in their ungainly costumes. The dancing was interrupted when the largest form, the pyramid, bumped into another dancer, causing part of his costume to fall off; a barrage of crashing continued until all of the costumes were destroyed. In shattering these architectural forms, Ramírez-Figueroa speaks to the destruction of cultures in history and the collision that occurs during hybridization. The performance was made even more poignant within Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic American Modernist building. With the costumes obliterated, the performers stood without their shells, naked. Architecture, like clothes, covers and protects, but also restricts us. In revealing their bodies, it became clear that they also represented variations within Latinx skin tones.

Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa. A Brief History of Architecture in Guatemala (Breve Historia de la Arquitec-tura en Guatemala), 2010; performance. Courtesy of the Guggenheim. Photos: Enid Alvarez © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2017.

Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa. A Brief History of Architecture in Guatemala (Breve Historia de la Arquitec-tura en Guatemala), 2010; performance. Courtesy of the Guggenheim. Photos: Enid Alvarez © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2017.

Concluding the evening was the Brazilian collective OPAVIVARÁ!’s Kitchen Drumming (Batuque na Cozinha) (2013/17), which draws upon the makeshift tradition of drumming in carnival and political protests in Brazil’s streets. For this performance, a troupe of five musicians used wooden kitchen utensils to drum on a plastic bucket, pots, and pans within the museum’s walls. As the drumming and dancing broke down into a party, with viewers also banging on the drums and some even forming a short limbo line, the work could only begin to challenge the rigidity of its physical context. While creating a festive atmosphere in the museum can be political, the piece lacked the tension and politics inherent to the power of street performance.

OPAVIVARÁ!. Kitchen Drumming (Batuque na cozinha), 2013/17; performance. Courtesy of the Gug-genheim. Photos: Enid Alvarez © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2017.

OPAVIVARÁ!. Kitchen Drumming (Batuque na Cozinha), 2013/17; performance. Courtesy of the Guggenheim. Photos: Enid Alvarez © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2017.

As the final performance of “Latin American Circle Presents” disbanded into a party, I became a little confused about the purpose of the event, which I should have forecasted when they checked IDs to enter. Oddly, the event was also a reception for Anicka Yi’s Life Is Cheap (which was not open) and Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim. The evening felt like a hesitant commitment to performance, where the Guggenheim hedged its bet by also turning it into an event, like so many institutions are hosting, that lures younger audiences into the museum with alcohol and spectacle.

In framing the evening around performances from Latin America, the museum didn’t explore the deeper conceptual or formal ties between the works. Ideas of place, context, politics, and the street as a public venue were central components that were not fully expanded upon, and which the Guggenheim could have easily facilitated with more nuance. While bringing these works into the museum expands the artists’ audiences and archives the work, it also radically alters, and even nullifies, their meanings.

Latin American Circle Presents: An Evening of Performances was a one-night event at the Guggenheim on May 5, 2017.

[1] Allan Kaprow and Robert Smithson, “What Is a Museum? A Dialogue,” 1967, in Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson (EDS), Institutional Critique: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London: The MIT Press, 2009), 57.

[2] The Guggenheim charged $15 to attend.

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