By Linda Dawn Hammond for WM Toronto,
Text Copyright LD Hammond
The warning signs were all there: an exhibit entitled, “Supernova: Stars, Deaths and Disasters”, guest curated by none other than David Cronenburg, director of such controversial films as "Dead Ringers" and Crash". On August 4th, 2006 unsuspecting visitors to the Andy Warhol exhibit at the A.G.O. (Art Gallery of Ontario) in Toronto received more for their $18. entry than they’d bargained.
They were confronted with an unscheduled 21st century "art happening", incorporating all of Andy Warhol's preferred signifiers- sex, blood, ego, masturbation, nude young men and a hint of artificial
Enter: the party crasher. Istvan Kantor, who has been simultaneously lauded and reviled for his provocative performance art since arriving in Canada from his native Hungary several decades ago. Otherwise known as Monty Cantsin, the Father of Neoism, Amen. And Self-appointed Leader of the Lower East Side ('80s).
Kantor's latest action," Deadly Gift (Trans-fusion AGO)", is part of his "Blood Campaign series". One might presume an Aids reference, but the project dates back to the late '70s and the artist denies any connection. When asked why it was then called "DEADLY" gift, Kantor offers this explanation:
"Why not if you like it this way, and since "GIFT" in German means "POISON", the title is "Deadly Poison", and since I told the guards not to touch me because I might have a disease it saved me from their physical reaction. They definitely didn't want to touch me.
But I used the "Deadly Gift" title because it was a good reference to the electric chair, the main subject of "Red Disaster." It was also a good title for the whole early Warhol work which was so obsessed with death and disaster. It was also a kind of threatening title. And also because I claimed that all those dead artists told me to do it, and their spirit was included in the blood.
So many reasons.
I think my manifesto explains it as well. It was also a kind of "suicide bomber" action, the tubes taped to my body similarly to bombs, and basically resulting in the death of my relationships with the museum for at least 2 years, hahaha... "
Similar performances of Kantor's in galleries have involved splattering blood on walls, followed by reading from a manifesto, followed by arrest, jail and banishment from an ever-growing list of prestigious institutions including the MoMA, the National Gallery of Canada, the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, and now, the Art Gallery of Ontario.
In spite of the notoriety, or more likely as a result, Kantor was one of the recipients of the 2004 Governor General's Award for Visual and Media Arts. He recalls being presented the award in the very same building from which he is currently banned – the National Gallery of Canada. Governor General Adrienne Clarkson explained that the winning artists’ work, “…challenges our conventional versions of reality and helps us to redefine it.”
The AGO had been maintaining an informal ongoing dialogue with Kantor as they seek to re-brand
themselves during a period of renovation. Perhaps they should have been expected him.
Kantor and co-conspirators Alexander (Sasha) Braun and Richard K. arrive at noon. Braun and K. proceed to strip naked and create disturbances on either side of the room. Writhing and thrashing around, genitals exposed, they appear to masturbate while emitting loud groaning noises. Sasha stands up and sings "Liberatione" in Russian.
With the AGO guards successfully distracted, Kantor disrobes in front of the Warhol painting, " Red Disaster", revealing a vial of blood, tubes and computer parts strapped to his penis. He later explains his crucifixion pose:
"Usually I splash my blood on the white wall between two artworks in the form of an X, but in this case I was the bloody X myself in front of Warhol's Red Disaster.'
Ellen McIlroy, an AGO docent, is in the process of explaining Warhol's work to a visitor when all chaos breaks out. Asked if it is part of the exhibit, she doesn't know what to reply. This is, after all, an Andy Warhol event. Perhaps someone has neglected to inform the staff about it.
A woman screams in the corner. Gallery visitor Bozena Krajewskais is beside herself, fearing she's witnessing an actual "sacrificial spectacle." Some AGO staff even suspect she's part of the performance until she's led out sobbing convulsively.
Popular perception of Warhol's art is often limited to the colourful soup cans and multiple Marilyns. Krajewskais later claims the Kantor experience has tainted her perception of Warhol forever. "It was such repulsive ugliness that I don't want to see anything more of Andy Warhol, it is guilt by association...” she declared, after declining the AGO's offer of a complimentary pass. Perhaps for the best. The Warhol exhibit itself juxtaposes images of electric chairs and car crashes alongside those too familiar cultural icons. Interspersed between, grainy videos portray random acts of polymorphous perversity occurring between stoned Factory hangers-on. Not for the overly sensitive,even without Kantor's intervention.
Most visitors however appear to appreciate the intrusion, and if anything irks, it's when staff banish them from the exhibit for hours while police are summoned and blood removed from the floors. Some visitors from are perplexed by what they view as an "overreaction" by AGO staff.
Interior designer Greg Windsor is positively enjoying himself; as Kantor's manifesto recites out loud a list of "spirits" in whose name he's been told to do this, Windsor, a huge Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis fan, interjects loudly, "Jackie O!" Later, standing in the hallway as Kantor is whisked past in a clutch of eight police officers, he laments the world's post-9/11 response to anything unexpected. "It really emphasized that it’s not the 60s anymore.”
Kantor explains that, "...the main idea in the manifesto is that RED DISASTER is my own piece, I painted it with my own and other artists' blood, and I'll donate a vial full of blood to the AGO that contains the spirit of Warhol and many other artists who inspired me to do this... "
According to plan, Kantor's final gesture is to detach the tube of blood from his penis and offer it to an AGO curator, "...as a sculptural piece for their permanent collection…" After being instructed to first place it on the floor in a plastic envelope, the gallery then surprisingly accepts his "Deadly Gift", albeit gingerly and wearing protective blue gloves. To Kantor his blood may symbolize the flow of life and the spirit of collective creativity, but for AGO staff and police it represented the threat of infection.
Two weeks later the vial is returned, arriving at his door hand-delivered by two AGO curators, enclosed in an orange autoclave bag labelled, "Potentially Infectious material." The accompanying letter confirms that the AGO has "declined his Gift" and that he is no longer allowed to enter the gallery premises.
Placed in a decidedly awkward position, Matthew Teitelbaum, the gallery's director and CEO, released the following statement: "The AGO supports and will defend the rights of artists. And while this was the work of an artist, it impacted the rights of another artist – Andy Warhol – as well as the rights of our visitors. Kantor needs to take responsibility for those actions."
Kantor and his two accomplices were originally charged with "engaging in prohibited activity" and "refusing to leave the premises when directed'. The AGO subsequently dropped all charges, leaving only the ban in place, with avenues open for "continuing dialogue" with the renegade artist.
Istvan Kantor has since made a new video (duration 12:30) entitled, "Deadly Gift", which contains smuggled video and still images of the action, readings from the manifesto and other supporting documentation.
As one exits the Warhol gallery, written on the wall is a quote:
“All my films are artificial, but then everything is sort of artificial. I don’t know where the artificial
Something to ponder as one left the building, with the spirit of Elvis, And Andy, And Jackie-O (!), And now Istvan, AKA Monty Cantsin, in tow. AMEN to that.
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Linda Dawn Hammond is a journalist and fine art photographer, in possession of an MFA from York U. She is a devoted Montrealer, now based in Toronto for reasons of love. Recently published work can be found in: NOW, MOJO, Big Beat, Blue Suede News, POV and "Red Light- Superheroes, Saints
and Sluts". Website: www.indyfoto.com