Theatricality Bogey Man Still Lives

Upcoming at apexart, still fighting the straw man of Michael Fried 40 years on:

Perverted by Theater
curated by Franklin Evans and Paul David Young
October 22 - December 6, 2008
Opening reception:
Wednesday, October 22, 6-8 pm

With works by Laylah Ali, Mel Bochner, Luis Camnitzer, Kabir Carter, Ele d'Artagnan, William Daniels, David Dupuis, Igor Eskinja, Jackie Gendel, Trajal Harrell, Elana Herzog, David Humphrey, Ross Knight, Virgil Marti, Ryan McGinley, Martin McMurray, Jim Nutt, Ann Pibal, Shahzia Sikander, Jack Smith, Mickalene Thomas, and Alexi Worth

In his 1967 essay 'Art and Objecthood,' art critic Michael Fried's central thesis was 'theater's profound hostility to the arts': 'theater and theatricality are at war today, not simply with modernist painting (or modernist painting and sculpture) but with art as such.' Art was being 'corrupted or perverted by theater.' Though Fried's criticism has become a part of art history, the fear of and antagonism toward 'theater' persist in today's curatorial orthodoxy.
Polymorphously perverse and cognizant of the critique of Fried by postmodern theory and contemporary art discourse, Perverted by Theater inverts Fried's hypothesis, purposely selecting art for its theatricality and installing it in an environment molded by theater, invoking the temporal dimension, the subject/object relation, the audience, the presence of the actor, the event of attending the theater, character, plot structure, the use of text in performance, and mimesis in order to reexamine the triangulation of visual art, performance, and theater.

A few thoughts on the exhibition brochure, pdf, html (as opposed to the exhibition proper, which opens next week): a quick glance at the artist list shows not Robert Wilson or David Mamet or The Wooster Group but the usual gallery suspects. The brochure correctly notes that many of these artists are doing not theater but "theater"; therefore it is possibly correct to say

Fear of and antagonism toward "theater" persist in today’s curatorial orthodoxy.

Otherwise this show looks to epitomize curatorial orthodoxy. The examples given of the bad, Fried-like orthodoxy are

...the Performa biennials and the recent exhibitions "The World as a Stage" at the Tate Modern and "A Theatre without Theatre" at the Berardo Collection in Lisbon. Despite the obligatory rhetoric of "transgression" in almost any artist’s statement and gallery press release, theater qua theater remains forbidden in high art culture.

Again, the artist list for "Perverted by Theatre" shows few who could be said to be doing theater qua theater--it is mostly the recombinant practice that has been the art world's staple since the '70s. What's theatrical is the perennial ritual burning of Michael Fried, a favorite mummer show that never seems to grow tiresome in the art world. The novelty of a critic who resisted the fusion of all the arts continues to throw off sparks. For four decades! Amazing.