Male go-go dancer, silver lame shorts -- it's the Hammer Museum
It was all in the service of a muse that artist Wade Guyton, a participant in the Hammer Museum exhibition “Oranges and Sardines: Conversations on Abstract Painting,” began prowling Los Angeles nightclubs not long ago, searching for a male go-go dancer who not only had superior technique but also would look good in silver lamé shorts.
Call it the artistic opposite of a still life: Guyton had to find a living, breathing, moving performer to be part of an artwork for the show — a re-creation of the late Cuban artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ 1991 installation “Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform).”
“It was the strangest installation process I’ve ever had,” Guyton says of his search through bars in West Hollywood and Silver Lake, adding slyly, “But it was enjoyable, of course.”
“Oranges and Sardines,” on view through Feb. 8, was curated by former Hammer chief curator Gary Garrels, who has since become senior curator of painting and sculpture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He invited six artists to assemble a room apiece that would display one or two of their own artworks but also include pieces by artists who had informed their work.
Along with the Gonzalez-Torres, Guyton chose objects by Dan Flavin, Robert Morris and Martin Barré to be shown alongside his own “Untitled” from 2008 — a large-scale wall piece that he created using an inkjet printer on linen.
Gonzalez-Torres, who died of complications of AIDS in 1996, had specified that, for just five minutes each day, unscheduled and unannounced, a dancer clad in silver lamé shorts would ascend the lighted platform and dance to music of his or her own choosing, played through earphones so only the dancer could hear.
“It definitely is not your usual object in an art exhibition,” Garrels says with understatement. “Felix was one of the first artists to go back and rethink Minimalism. He certainly admired it for its aesthetic elegance ... but was also quite alienated by its aloofness, its withdrawal from any kind of social engagement.” By including a human being, Garrels says, Gonzalez-Torres gave Minimalist art “a kind of poetic, romantic, social and cultural dimension.”
Gonzalez-Torres did not say whether he would prefer the dancer to be male or female, but Guyton says he chose to be consistent with Gonzalez-Torres’ first exhibition of the piece, which employed a young man. The silver lamé shorts were mandated for either sex.
The New York-based Guyton says that at first, he and the Hammer staffers involved tried to find a dancer through the UCLA dance department as well as through an audition process.
But it soon became clear to the artist that he had to visit the real go-go, or disco, club scene to find what he had in mind. He says it was hard to find someone with the dance training required to sustain a performance within a museum gallery.
“Most of them didn’t dance very well. They were only activated by the fact that they were trying to get a dollar from someone in the audience, shaking for the dollar,” he says. “I thought, this guy is going to be alone, he needs to be able to move.”
Guyton found what he was looking for in 26-year-old Falk Hentschel, who broke into the entertainment business as a dancer but now is more interested in becoming an actor and filmmaker (several other dancers fill in when he is unavailable). Hentschel acknowledges that his club dancing is a “money gig,” but he brings to it seven years of dance training in styles as diverse as ballet and hip-hop.
Hentschel says that out of the six days a week that he dances, “three or four” find him dancing alone in the gallery. Such was the case Wednesday morning about 11:15, when his only viewer was art historian and museum member Rina Scott, who stopped to watch at a distance from one of the other rooms in the exhibition. Scott called the experience “wonderful” but said she’d need to think about it before offering a comment: “Where do I go with what I just saw?”
The performer says he usually is so absorbed in movement that he doesn’t notice whether anyone is observing.
“Wade wanted me to be completely vulnerable and not ‘perform,’” he says. “So that’s why I always wear the same hat. I have it really low. I’m not really paying attention to anything. As soon as I really see, and my eyes come up, it turns into a performance, and I just don’t want to go there.” Hentschel varies the time he shows up each day around his schedule and because he wants to maintain the randomness that Gonzalez-Torres seemed to dictate.
He said Wednesday that he had cranked up his music of choice — “My Immortal” by Evanescence — extra loud so as not to be distracted by a reporter, photographer and videographer in the room. Because of its volume, the music was slightly audible in the gallery but mostly obscured by Hentschel’s heavy breathing as he moved through an athletic routine he described afterward as “modern with popping and hip-hop elements.”
Only occasionally has anyone chosen to speak to Hentschel afterward, he says. “Most people just watch and they walk on, which really makes you feel like part of the art piece — they read the description and go on to the next.”
Hentschel read about Gonzalez-Torres’ work after getting the job but says, “I try not to interpret what the artist was trying to do. Wade says he wants me to do my own thing up there as far as how I dance, depending on my moods. Sometimes it’s a real dance track, sometimes a piano solo, happy, sad, it’s all over the place.”
He says he has come to enjoy the rather sedate and respectful museum-going crowd after the club scene, especially the fact that no one tries to touch the works on display, which in this case include him. “They don’t come from a place of, ‘Oh, let’s go out and drink and have a sexual experience.’”
Of course, the reality is that most “Oranges and Sardines” visitors will never see Hentschel dance. Do those people who miss his five-minute solo also miss the true experience of the work?
Curator Garrels thinks not. Although he believes Gonzalez-Torres delighted in the outlandishness of a go-go dancer in a museum, he says the artist also enjoyed playing with the concepts of memory and imagination.
“It’s the other way around,” Garrels says. “Somebody who actually sees it maybe has lost a little bit of the mystery. You can create your own sort of imagination about what it is and what it would be like. I think that is the essence of the work.”
-- Diane Haithman
Video credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times