Walking into the Performa gala, I almost knocked over Joan Jonas. The 87-year-old performance art pioneer wore her white hair parted with two barrettes. She is very small.
The dinner that kicked off the Performa Biennial’s tenth edition took place at a sprawling SoHo loft on Mercer Street, its uneven hardwood floors feeling homey while posing a challenge to high heels. Roselee Goldberg, who founded the performance art festival in 2004, recalled that her first loft was a lot like this one, only “the rent was $200.” The Fluxus-inspired evening couldn’t help but stir some nostalgia for the New York of yesteryear. Guests included Cindy Sherman, Maurizio Cattelan, Marilyn Minter, Moses Sumney, Kayode Ojo, Ebony Haynes, DJ Spooky, Kimberly Drew, and Yvonne Rainer.
I was early, arriving at 7:15 pm, the room not yet full, and I wondered about the underdressed guy in a gray sweatshirt with an American flag and the words “New York.” Soon it became clear he was one of eight assistants (five in sneakers; three boots, Blundstone, snakeskin, and cowboy) from Gaetano Pesce’s studio who, for the next hour, poured resin to create a red, yellow, and blue chandelier (later it was auctioned off for $20k). Pesce, not in attendance, was ceremoniously honored throughout the evening. So was Salon 94’s Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, a longtime member of Performa’s board, and artist Derrick Adams, a multi-Performa alum.
“Why does it always have to be like this?” said one guest, mock-jaded. As the distended resin sculpture took shape, there were a lot of iPhones in the air. But truly, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, even the vegetarian who told me she was “dreading” the dinner, billed as an interpretation of the 1970s artist-run restaurant FOOD, the lore of which includes foregrounding animal parts. Wednesday’s menu included baked marrow bones and a stew with a visible rib cage. “Very head to tail,” said Assaf Kimmel, the Berlin architect who designed this year’s festival headquarters, Performa Hub, which debuted later as the venue for the gala’s afterparty, only a few blocks away.
Walking into the Hub, a ground-floor cast-iron storefront at Broadway and Canal, sometime after 10 pm, the long narrow space was an electric blue haze.
“It reminds me of a room I used to dream about,” said fashion designer Gabi Asfour.
“Do you think the floor is pitched?” asked architect Christian Wassman.
Kimmel confirmed the space, which he adapted into a temporary home for artist talks, screenings, and a coworking lounge, is indeed graded at 1.5, moving up as you enter deeper into the room. “It was one of many challenges we faced in the design,” he added, winkingly aware of the stock architect-speak he was performing.