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Five decades of black performance art electrifies New York City
David Hammons, Spade (Power to the Spade), 1969. Body print, pigment, and mixed media on paper, 53 1/4 x 35 1/4 in. Collection of Jack and Connie Tilton, New York. Photo: Jerry Jones.

NEW YORK, NY.- This fall, New York University’s Grey Art Gallery and The Studio Museum in Harlem co-present Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, the first comprehensive survey of more than five decades of performance art by black visual artists. The exhibition, organized by Valerie Cassel Oliver for the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, is being presented in New York in two parts: Part I is on view September 10 to December 7, 2013, at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery; Part II will take place November 14, 2013 to March 9, 2014 at The Studio Museum in Harlem. The exhibition is accompanied by more than a dozen live performances and public programs throughout its six-month run. These include a series of performance co-organized with Performa 13, New York’s celebrated performance-art biennial (November 1–24, 2013).

Providing a critical history beginning with Fluxus and Conceptual art in the early 1960s through present-day practices, Radical Presence chronicles the emergence and development of black performance art over three generations, presenting a rich and complex look at this important facet of contemporary art. The exhibition comprises more than 100 works by some 37 artists, including video and photo documentation of performances, performance scores and installations, interactive works, and artworks created as a result of performance actions. Accompanying the exhibition is
a 144-page, illustrated hardcover catalogue, a major contribution to scholarship on performance art as well as black visual art.

“The Grey Art Gallery is thrilled to co-host this dynamic and groundbreaking exhibition,” notes Lynn Gumpert, the Grey’s director. “NYU is an important site of scholarship on performance art: our faculty includes Radical Presence catalogue contributor Tavia Nyong’o, Radical Presence artist Lyle Ashton Harris, and the pioneering performance scholar and founder of the Performa festival, RoseLee Goldberg, to name just a few. As NYU’s fine-arts museum, the Grey is proud to present exhibitions that augment and advance scholarship underway at the university.”

“In curating Radical Presence, Valerie Cassel Oliver has brought together incredible works of art and important scholarship,” says Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem. “We are so excited to bring the exhibition to New York, and to build on Ms. Cassel Oliver’s amazing work with a full slate of performances and programs.”

Part I of the exhibition, at the Grey Art Gallery, traces the historical path of black performance in the second half of the 20th century. It begins with Pond, a seminal work by the Fluxus artist Benjamin Patterson first performed in 1962, and features a number of pioneering artists, including David Hammons, Maren Hassinger, Ulysses S. Jenkins, and Senga Nengudi. The inclusion of later works, by artists such as Coco Fusco and Pope.L, will allow the viewer to explore more recent developments in black performance art. The installation also features work by Papo Colo, Jean-Ulrick Désert, Sherman Fleming, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Lyle Ashton Harris, Satch Hoyt, Kalup Linzy, Dave McKenzie, Jayson Musson aka Hennessy Youngman, Lorraine O’Grady, Clifford Owens, Adam Pendleton, Adrian Piper documented by Peter Kennedy, Rammellzee, Jacolby Satterwhite, Sur Rodney (Sur), and Daniel Tisdale.

Part II at The Studio Museum in Harlem includes an array of video, performance-based photography, and documentation, alongside set pieces or objects used during or remnants resulting from the artists’ actions, marking the many methods employed in making performance. Included in The Studio Museum’s presentation are both historic and contemporary works by Derrick Adams, Terry Adkins, Papo Colo, Jamal Cyrus, Zachary Fabri, Sherman Fleming, Theaster Gates, Girl (Chitra Ganesh + Simone Leigh), David Hammons, Lyle Ashton Harris, Wayne Hodge, Shaun El C. Leonardo, Kalup Linzy, Dave McKenzie, Jayson Musson aka Hennessy Youngman, Senga Nengudi, Tameka Norris, Lorraine O’Grady, Clifford Owens, Benjamin Patterson, Adam Pendleton, Pope.L, Jacolby Satterwhite, Dread Scott, Xaviera Simmons, Sur Rodney (Sur), and Carrie Mae Weems.

Numerous scholars have explored the history of performance art as a manifestation of radical shifts in social thought and artistic practice, but only a small handful of publications have specifically focused on black performance art. The accompanying, fully illustrated catalogue for Radical Presence features contributions by important scholars in the field, including an essay by exhibition curator Valerie Cassel Oliver. Additional essayists include Franklin Sirmans, Department Head and Curator of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, who explores the early performances of Lorraine O’Grady; Tavia Nyong’o, Associate Professor of Performance Studies at New York University, who discusses black performance art from the perspective of sex and gender; and Naomi Beckwith, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, who examines the relationship between live performance and its documentation. Other contributors include Yona Backer, Founding Partner and Executive Director, Third Streaming, New York, and photographer/performance artist Clifford Owens. The catalogue also includes a chronology of black performance art since 1960; an exhibition checklist; color reproductions of featured works; a general bibliography; and biographies of each artist in the exhibition. Additional resources and information about the New York presentation will be available on a new exhibition site,, launching summer 2013.

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