Trajal Harrell “20 Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church” (S)

First: Andy just wrote this but I’m going to post it again and pretend I said all of these things myself:  It is one thing to review shows, it is quite another to follow the work of an artist over time…worthwhile artists deserve multiple visits, in fact they require multiple visits. It is important when possible to see a body of work, to analyze how it grows and changes over time, to give artists room to grow and change. Sometimes artists succeed sometimes they fail – but to dismiss any single work out of hand is irresponsible. What fascinates me is watching artists wrestle with their obsessions over time and learn from their investigations.  That is the difference, I think, between art as commodity and art as culture – culture needs to be nurtured and needs to be appreciated in context, not merely for its entertainment value in the short term. I’m not particularly interested in consumer-focused entertainment product, I’m interested in long-term discussions over years. We should try and break out of the consumerist trap and be willing to let people “fail” – understanding that it is all a process.

Trajal Harell is an artist who deserves repeated looks. Last night, I brought someone unfamiliar, but highly excited, about his work to see the return of his Vogueing-Postmodern dance mash-up solo as part of the American Realness Festival.  She left last night’s sold-out show at The New Museum a bit disappointed.  I realized he is an acquired taste.  One of today’s serious thinkers about dance, both as editor-in-chief of Movement Research’s Performance Journal and as active working artist, he provokes via minutiae.  His continued explorations into the evolution of Cool, often sheltered in sparse works that reference early postmodern dance investigations, are infamously challenging to the viewer, providing little action or material for consumption.  They can feel like enacted performance studies dissertations – profound, mundane, considered, overblown, thoughtful, tedious, rigorous, indulgent and long. I find this challenge worthwhile and worth a return.  It is not the individual work but how this artist is adding to, reflecting on, and changing our conversation about performance, about the body, about race, gender, and class that I find most interesting.

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