[Many thanks to Teo Freytes for bringing this item to our attention.] Jennifer Krasinski (The Village Voice) reviews Papo Colo, a retrospective of the Puerto Rican artist’s early performances, on view at MoMA PS1 until August 28, 2016 [see previous post Papo Colo retrospective at MoMA PS1]. She describes Colo as an anomaly, “an artist whose life and work are propelled by an ethic that can be summed up by a piece of advice he gives young culture workers interested in starting their own spaces: ‘You have to give everything and expect nothing.’” She also reminds us that the show leads up to a new performance he’ll give in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Park in January 2017. Here are excerpts of the review:
Our eyes have gotten so used to the blitz of the showstopping retrospective that it’s easy to miss the quieter detonations an artist can set off inside a museum. If you visit MoMA P.S.1 right now, you might just walk right by a modest exhibition dedicated to early performances by the multimedia artist and cultural superhero Papo Colo. But to do so would be to miss out on an introduction, or reintroduction, to singular works by a man for whom life and art and politics and love were (and are) so entwined as to be a much-needed presence right now — a role model who points to the possibilities of what it means to be an artist in this world.
Colo may be best known as half the brain trust behind the legendary Exit Art, which he co-founded in 1982 with his life partner, the formidable Jeanette Ingberman. For thirty years, Exit Art served as one of the city’s premier “alternative spaces,” giving a home to exhibitions, performances, readings, lectures, installations, and political actions by artists, writers, musicians, and others traditionally pushed aside by the straight, white, male cultural agenda. “Every exit is an entrance,” Colo would say, defining the spirit of the place, which proved that the so-called margins are always wider than the mainstream and often moving at a velocity that lands artists ahead of their time. David Wojnarowicz, Tehching Hsieh, Martin Wong, Elaine Lustig Cohen, Adrian Piper, Vito Acconci, and Shirin Neshat are just some of the 2,500 artists who exhibited there. These days, you’d be hard-pressed to meet a New York–based culture worker over the age of forty who didn’t at some point show at Exit Art.
While Colo was supporting the work of others, he was also creating his own: videos, drawings, actions, sculptures, performances, and more. The documents of select early performances at P.S.1 are too few, but potent: seven still images (four prints of contact sheets, plus three photographs) and a single video, Colo’s auto-portrait The Diferencia (1976–86), which splices footage from his seminal works, including Superman 51 (1977) and Against the Current (1983), and intersperses it with clips of Colo performing his daily ablutions. Colo focused on the body as a site of cultural, poetic, and political production — specifically, his own body, one that resides between identities, between his birthplace of Puerto Rico and his chosen home in the U.S. What and how does a body mean, and why and when does it represent more than just itself? He wound questions of visibility, legibility, and labor into actions that were as arduous and absurd (and sometimes as fruitless) as the political systems that shape our country, and within which our citizens struggle. [. . .]