Performance-Theatre-Art Discussion

Source: Afterall  <>

Panel discussion about an artist performed as play, stereostypes from accros the artworld…


This is Not a Panel Discussion: Pablo Helguera’s Pedagogical Follies
Lyra Kilston
11th July 2009

I recently witnessed the following exchange at a panel discussion on the life and work of the artist Juvenal Merst. The dialogue was between two curators: Sonja Stillman, a discreetly dressed, intellectual woman in her late 40s, and the panel’s moderator, Clifford Barnes, a slick and fashionable man in his early 40s. After a long-winded disagreement about Merst, their dialogue devolved into this:

Barnes: I don’t define what art is, I just show it as it is.

Stillman: I won’t even bring up your current associations with commercial galleries, which I see as a huge conflict of interest as a curator. What good is professional honesty as a curator if your commitment has been to treat art as an unthreatening, uncritical product, as a happy and pleasurable and entertaining thing to the market?

Barnes: Why should I apologize if the artists I work with are successful? That’s ludicrous. You, in contrast, treat artists as game pieces of bogus curatorial hypotheses that try to be a soothing balm to our social problems. Not only does it not work as exhibition premise – it is also bad art.

Stillman: It’s bad art for those, like you, who do not wish to think of the world at large.

Barnes: It’s bad for everyone beyond your tiny circle of friends at Bard.

Stillman: I’m sorry – I can’t do this anymore. [She stands up and starts to walk away from the panel.][1]

While a tad more vicious than the subdued tones of most panel discussions, its contrapositions are timeless. Yet the whole thing is fiction, and in fact farce. The above lines were performed for a rehearsal I attended of The Juvenal Players, a new play by New York-based artist Pablo Helguera that premiered at Grand Arts in Kansas City, Missouri, on June 13, 2009. The play presents a public discussion between a cast of art world archetypes – curators, a collector, a thwarted artist and an arts administrator – as they meet to discuss the life and work of the artist Juvenal Merst, a character that Helguera named after the early second century Roman poet Juvenal, who is credited with developing the nascent genre of satire.

The play’s premise is that Merst’s last artwork before his untimely death was to request that these particular people gather to discuss his life and work seven years later. As Clifford Barnes relays, Merst had specified the following in writing: “I want you to be at that moment where the memory of me has started to vanish, but not too much, with the purpose that you may still retain the most important aspects of those memories and have eliminated by now the incidental and unimportant details. You all will be the players of my own life, the narrators of my story, and to you I trust and I wish I was there to see my life be told.”[2]



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