Hog Wild

In a video presented at Rob Pruitts First Annual Art Awards at the Guggenheim last Thursday night, the Delusional Downtown Divas, a trio of comically naïve women seeking art-world fame at any cost, pay a visit to esteemed performance artist Joan Jonas, and, after initially confusing her with the Jonas Brothers, ask her, “How do you know when you’re making art, and when you’re just walking down the street?” As much of an eye roller as that question may be for art cognoscenti, it wasn’t a bad one to ask on the eve of New York’s third Performa biennial, the three-week extravaganza of live art that began on Friday night, when a crowd of art world machers — many of the same that had gathered for Rob Pruitt — converged on the 22nd Street building that currently houses nonprofit endeavor the X Initiative to do what appeared to be a lot of eating and drinking, but was in fact artmaking.

What they were making, to be exact, was Creation, an artwork as interactive food odyssey, and the brainchild of Jennifer Rubell, who is as well know for her popular book on entertaining, Real Life Entertaining, as she is for being the daughter of contemporary art collectors Mera and Don Rubell and niece of one of New York’s most renowned entertainers, the late Steve Rubell, of Studio 54 fame. All this is to say that there was a great deal of anticipation about Creation, given that Rubell knows both art and how to put on a show.

And Creation’s overriding theme, the first chapters of Genesis, would have come off as a bit heavy-handed and portentous if it hadn’t been for Rubell’s light touch. Guests were shuttled up to the building’s fourth floor, where they chose glasses from an array of 3,600 them in various shapes and sizes on a long, low white plinth, then lifted a metal ice scoop from a nearby wall where a number of them were mounted on hooks, scooped up ice cubes from a mountain of them on a plinth similar to the one that supported the glasses, and proceeded into the freight elevator, where what appeared to be an endless variety of liquor bottles were arranged on a long table, to make themselves a drink. All of this alluded, presumably, to the creation of the stars in the firmament, given the glinting and gleaming glasses and ice. Victuals on this floor came in the form of a large pile of peanuts on the floor, an allusion to the earth, and according to the program, to Adam’s tilling the soil. These elements gave rise to inevitable comparisons with minimalism and process art, and, in the case of the peanuts, to the piles of wrapped candy by Felix Gonzales Torres, for some visitors, not knowing quite what to do with the peanuts’ shells, tossed them back into the pile, as one does with a Gonzales Torres; others strewed them elsewhere, leaving paths of hulls behind them.

At eight o'clock the participants in this moveable feast — as well as the freight elevator, bearing the booze — made their way down to the third floor, where they were greeted by another white plinth, atop which rested stacks upon stacks of barbequed ribs beneath steady streams of honey that dripped from the ceiling. (Adam’s rib, to follow Genesis.) Further on in the room were arranged long communal tables in the style of a summer camp, or a beergarden. Resting on these were metal canisters housing utensils, as well as side dishes such as corn pudding, beets, and greens. It must be said for this floor, which was very much the centerpiece of Rubell’s Creation, that the art world could do with more communal-style dinners. In stark contrast to Pruitt’s art awards, for instance, where a sort of pecking order was maintained by the nearness or distance of one’s table to the stage, Rubell’s arrangement allowed for a more convivial kind of socializing, if one somewhat impeded by the narrowness of the aisles between the tables, and the tendency of the folding chairs to drift into these aisles, forming barriers.

If this floor was the centerpiece of Creation, the ribs were very much the centerpiece of this floor, putting vegetarians, of which this writer is one, at something of a disadvantage. Therefore I here defer to my colleague Andrew Russeth for his experience:

Two thousand pounds of barbecued pork ribs pack a strong, relentlessly wonderful smell. Well before dinnertime, their fat, spicy scent had easily wafted out of the dining room and into the stairwell, teasing visitors with almost unimaginable deliciousness. However, entering the banquet hall and seeing an actual ton of meat piled on a white pedestal was frankly horrifying. Even the most unrepentant carnivores had to admit: That was a lot of dead pigs. Thankfully, the sweet, crispy skin and the succulent, fatty meat crafted by Daisy Mays BBQ quickly banished any feelings of guilt. The meat cooled quickly on its minimalist box, but the smartest diners returning for seconds were seen thrusting their tongs into the meat mountain to find warmer, saucier strips buried within. Overhead, thin streams of honey dripped from an overhead platform, resembling glimmering, golden versions of Fred Sandback strings, through which people waved their plates. The pools of honey and the intensely rich sauce made for a profoundly sticky eating experience, but Jennifer Rubell had thought of everything. Hidden inside one of the metal pots that lined the tables were those barbeque classics: refreshing wet naps, smelling faintly of citrus.

Those Creation-ists (if you will) who knew what was coming next kept a keen eye on the clock, and at nine dashed down to the second floor, eager to bash with a hammer one of several effigies of Jeff Koonss famous bunny courtesy local chocolatier Jacques Torres, to pick apples from the floor beneath three felled trees, and from the branches of the trees themselves, and to don arm-length rubber gloves and dig around in bags of powdered sugar for wedding cookies. (This last bit seemed ripe for comparison to the scene in Scarface where Tony Montana, at his desk, has his face buried in a mountain of blow.)

But what resonated here was the hollow sound of those hammers whacking those chocolate bunnies. With what avidity folks went after them, as though they’d long had something against Koons, and his sublimely glib, iconic artwork. And so Creation ended in destruction. As the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin once quipped, and as artists like Chris Burden and Urs Fischer have since proved, the urge to destroy must indeed be a creative urge.