artistic licenseWinter 2009

Break-Out Performance
The Warhol is taking its edgy Off the Wall series to a whole new level by not only hosting non-traditional performances but helping to create them.   
By Justin Hopper

Clockwise starting top left: Radiohole, Young Jean Lee, David Cale, Jeremy Wade, and Neal Medlyn will bring fresh, think-outside-the-box performances to Pittsburgh.

Radiohole co-founder Eric Dyer is talking about his group’s latest performance piece, Whatever, Heaven Allows, part of The Andy Warhol Museum’s 2010 Off the Wall series. Speaking from inside “The Collapsible Hole,” a renovated auto-body shop in Brooklyn that the performance troupe calls home, he describes an artistic space, and an arts group, caught between two worlds.  

“There’s audio equipment piled up everywhere,” says Dyer, “and a workbench with a bunch of old lights on it that I got out of a dumpster. There’s a G5 computer with a pile of garbage next to it—we’re working on a lot of advanced stuff, all iPhone triggered, but there’s still our cobbled-together garbage props, too. We like to play in that space in between.”

Radiohole lives where those two worlds—that of iPhones and dumpster diving—collide. Renowned as New York City’s crass saviors of avant-theater fusion, Radiohole has spent its decade-long existence creating performances that garner as much attention for their onstage punk-rock hedonism as for their hilarious takes on literature and art. Where has such sneering underground-ism gotten the scrappy Radiohole? Glowing reviews in the New York Times, multiple tours of European venues, and now the third-annual Spalding Gray Award—a commission for new work and an American tour sponsored and curated by The Andy Warhol Museum, New York City’s legendary Performance Space 122, The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the estate of the famed monologist for whom the award is named.

The Spalding Gray Award represents  a shift in the new-performance world, transitioning towards a less insular performance scene that counts more than just New York as its audience. And The Warhol’s Off the Wall series has become an agent of that change.

“With our profile, we should be putting new work out there—work that otherwise wouldn’t happen.”
Ben Harrison, The Warhol’s associate curator for performance

Not unlike Radiohole, Off the Wall is a program in transition. After a decade of bringing cutting-edge performances to Pittsburgh, the series has transformed into a full, cross-season slate of work, tapping multiple venues and engaging a variety of community partners. Through collaborations like the Spalding Gray consortium, the series is extending its reach even further into the arts scene of Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, it’s also working to solidify The Warhol’s place as one of America’s premier sponsors, not just hosts, of progressive, hybrid performance work.

To Ben Harrison, The Warhol’s associate curator for performance and the architect of Off the Wall, one vital aspect of achieving that next step is to move from passively presenting established performances to commissioning new work, such as the Radiohole performance. And as Eric Dyer is the first to point out, producing such work is often lengthy, challenging, and expensive. But Harrison explains that for The Warhol, helping people like Dyer build their repertoire is the next goal.

“I hear it at conferences all the time,” says Harrison. “It’s great to present the work, but artists need help to create it—whether that’s commissions, studio time,
or research residencies. With our profile, we should be putting new work out there—work that otherwise wouldn’t happen.”

But Off the Wall’s primary mission remains the same: to present new, ultramodern performance work, whatever that may be. This season certainly delivers. It’s the series’ longest yet with eight performances stretching over seven months, due primarily to the generous support of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Jeremy Wade’s show, commissioned and co-presented by the Japan Society, takes on Japanese kawaii (“cute”) pop culture in a multi-media collaboration with famed anime artist Hiroki Otsuka on January 23 at the New Hazlett Theater. At the other end of the spectrum there’s Neal Medlyn, who’ll provide perhaps the strangest show of the series with his campy reenactment of The Beyonce Experience Live!, the R&B diva’s live DVD, on March 26 at The Warhol.

Another collaboration—this one perhaps a bit more unexpected—is with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. While an avant-garde performance series and a children’s museum might not seem an obvious match, Chris Siefert, the Children’s Museum deputy director, says the missions of the two organizations do, in fact, jive, hence their co-production of a family performance by quirky pop legends They Might Be Giants, who recently released Here Come the 123s, the group’s third album for children.

“One reason we feel we’re at the forefront of children’s museums internationally is because of the value we place on bringing contemporary art to our visitors,” says Siefert. “To us,
it’s a natural collaboration. And They Might Be Giants also share the same values—to bring good, relevant art to young audiences.”

Most Off the Wall artists rarely escape New York. But with collaborative efforts, and a bit of commissioning and risk-taking, Off the Wall is prepared to make Pittsburgh one of only a few markers on the national contemporary-performance map. Radiohole’s new commissioned piece, based on the films of Douglas Sirk, will be the first work the group tours in the United States.

“There aren’t that many institutions in the U.S. that show this work, and they’re strapped for cash,” says Radiohole’s Dyer, noting that this makes touring often impossible. “We’ve toured a fair amount in Europe, but I think our work is deeply American. So it’s exciting for us to get the work to an American audience outside of New York.”

It’s a thrill shared by The Warhol. “It’s been an evolution,” says Ben Harrison. “But our series is still what it’s always been: What can we do with our resources to offer a sampling of new contemporary performance that’s out there, getting some attention, and making people think?”
Also in this issue:

The Art of Daily Life  ·  Putting the Popular in Science  ·  Welcome  ·  Clearing a New Path  ·  Directors' Note  ·  NewsWorthy  ·  Face Time: Lynn Zelevansky  ·  Field Trip: For the Birds  ·  About Town: Social Science  ·  Science & Nature: The Lord of the Flies  ·  Big Picture