"There is no such thing as an intellectual or artistic recession," RoseLee Goldberg declared this afternoon, sounding a defiantly optimistic tone as she detailed plans for Performa 09, the third edition of the performance art biennial, which runs through the first three weeks of November.
The scrappy series of events she engineered in 2005 has grown to become a genuine New York institution, and the goal this year is to "seal its place in the landscape," said Goldberg, Performa's founding director. History was on her mind, and she prefaced her plans with a reading from the Futurist Manifesto, that foundational text of performance art, which is 100 years old this year.
"Museums are cemeteries," she began, choosing an excerpt of Filippo Marinettis pronouncement that seems dangerous at a time when even the redoubtable Metropolitan is laying off staff. But it was also an honest selection. Museums are being forced to rethink the way they operate, and Performa 09 — filled with ambitious collaborative projects that span disciplines and can be seen at institutions including P.S.1, the Studio Museum Harlem, and Cooper Union — may provide some ideas.
First there was the big financial news: The budget increased 10 percent this year to $1.5 million, thanks in large part to a grant from the Rockefeller Foundations NYC Cultural Innovation Fund. Half of that $1.5 million will go to artists and production costs, of which there appear to be plenty. Goldberg and her team have picked 11 new "Performa Commissions" and initiated a "Performa Premieres" program, which will provide New York debuts for six pieces.
Jennifer Rubell will inaugurate the event at the XInitiative space in Chelsea with a sumptuous feast, offering 2,000 pounds of ribs, 250 pots of vegetables, 100 banquet tables, edible sculptures, and a liquor elevator for the art masses. The roster of artists this year also includes Mike Kelley, Wangechi Mutu, Arto Lindsay, Tacita Dean, William Kentridge, Joan Jonas, and a host of others, many entirely new to the performance art field.
Performance art’s power is often linked to its power to surprise, so it's not surprising that the details available for some of the events were still sketchy. Introducing a piece by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Ari Benjamin-Meyer, Goldberg showed photographs of Katz’s Deli down on Houston Street and of a seat in a New York theater (which she refused to name), and mentioned a live orchestra performance. The artists would reveal the connection, she explained.
"We want to give you clues, seduce you, and put a little taste in your mouth," she said. "You will just have to trust us."