Neke Carson: Evening Fabric in Morning Light
Opens March 25, 2023
By ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST, March 2023
Evening Fabric in Morning Light, the title of Neke Carson’s show of photographs at the Mitchell Algus Gallery on Delancey, tells the story. “I take satin and different things and hold them up in the window,” Carson says. “The light illuminates them. I either put them over a board or attach them to the wall with thumbtacks and start messing around with curves and things. I start at 7 or maybe 8. And I have to quit at 12 because it’s morning light. And the rest of the day I don’t have to do anything.”
It’s a strong show, and startlingly unlike anything the artist has previously done. Which is just as it should be because startling artworlders with edgy pranks has been Carson’s modus operandi since he moved to New York in 1970 after graduating from RISD. His initial motivation, oddly, was bashfulness. “It’s the old story,” he says.”The young artists come to New York and they have to confront the system, the labyrinth of this artworld. Do you have it in you? What is your approach? Well, I was too shy just to go up and show people my work. But i
f I made an event out of it then I could do it.”
So it was that he had numerous fruitless sessions with gallerists, snatching a photograph of each during the process and being careful to give no clue that anything unusual was underway. When a gallerist actually offered to show his art, he considered the performance complete so packaged his documentation and gave it a title: A Time-Wasting Event. That had worked. So Carson launched himself onto a program, doing a performance a month between 1970 and 1972, each in a sequence of art galleries or museum spaces targeted for use as his studio/theater. They were disruptive confrontational, but brief. “These things happened very quickly. I didn’t stick around for an hour, an hour and a half. I did them in three minutes, five minutes, whatever. Just to get some good pictures and go home.
In keeping with their locations many of the early performances were artworld-based, as when he went around a gallery with a tuning fork with which he would strike a picture frame or sculpture to elicit the Sound of Art. “It was a Middle C” he says. Or when he did Sold in the Sonnabend Gallery at 420 West Broadway. “I went there with a roll of red dots,” he says. “I had a video team watching, and I sold the whole show out. I ended up selling the red dots. That’s why people don’t put red dots on the wall anymore, they put them on a piece of paper. That was probably the most aggressive action”.
Gilbert & George had been standing on a table, themselves performing. “I sold them out, I put a red dot on the table” Carson says.
Did they react?
“No. It was strange. I was right next to them” he says, noting that the gallery director had taken the red-spotting rather well. “He said alright! Just leave it” Carson says,
It was also in Sonnabend that Carson inserted himself into another artwork, Vito Acconci’s Seedbed. In this piece the artist is under the floor, invisibly masturbating, and communicating his fantasies by microphone to the gallery-goers he hears walking overhead. Carson became one of those gallery-goers and had himself photographed in a balletic leap above the artist. “It was really a publicity picture,” he says. “I didn’t dance. I just jumped. And Eileen, my wife, took a picture. I didn’t speak with Vito afterwards. I don’t know what he thought. I jumped far enough in front of him that I didn’t hit where he was.”
Other of Carson’s events inclined to the surreal, as with Dandruff Exorcism, which required him to shake out his dandruff onto a sheet of paper. He got down to this in a number of art spaces, finally the Castelli Gallery, attracting Leo Castelli’s attention. “He asked what are you doing? I explained. And he said would you mind doing it someplace else?
“I said Okay. He was so sweet, Every gallery reacted in a different way.
Carson also did some basic showbiz, singing Don’t Rain On The Rain, the Shirley Bassey hit, in a number of galleries, “I can dance,” he says. “But I prefer to dance really stupidly to match the singing because I can’t carry a tune. So I was playing a performance artist who was bad at what he was doing. I still can’t sing. I would give up anything just to be able to sing.”
Carson’s project was attracting a following so he got a lot of attention when he let it be known that an interesting couple would be appearing at an opening in another space at 420 West Broadway. “I said they admired silent movie stars so much that they had gone to Brazil to have their voiceboxes taken away so that they could be more glamorous,” Carson says. “It was all a lie but everybody showed up.”
The artist whose opening it was became so enraged that he asked everybody to leave, saying he was going to beat Neke Carson up. This didn’t happen but it’s a reminder of the element of danger in Performance art, an element that empowers the work of, say, Chris Burden. “It’s a lost form of art, doing something dangerous,” Carson sats. “It’s a lost discipline, there’s no school for it. At RISD they don’t have a room where they teach you hostile art.”
It had been an eventful two years but Carson was feeling the need to move on, to return to painting. And here too he was inventive.“I became in in finding a different way to paint, another pathway,” he says.
The anus might be a usable brush holder, he decided.
This Rectal Realism was born. “It wasn’t the eye/hand coordination, it was the eye/arse coordination that I was trying to explore,” he says. A portrait of Andy Warhol seemed a good start-up, Carson approached him.
What was Warhol’s reaction?
“He was all for it,” Neke Carson says. “Vincent Fremont was there. Bob Colacello came by. Glenn O’Brien did the video.” It’s a pretty good likeness too.
So too Evening Fabric in Morning Light, the show of photographs at Michell Algus. The fabrics that Neke Carson has organized in these pieces are at once luminous and hyperrealist and no two pieces are alike - in a few there are figurative elements, such as indications of a human presence, or a vase - but mostly they are pure abstractions. And some not so pure, pieces of fabric being things too. Go see. WM
Anthony Haden-Guest (born 2 February 1937) is a British writer, reporter, cartoonist, art critic, poet, and socialite who lives in New York City and London. He is a frequent contributor to major magazines and has had several books published including TRUE COLORS: The Real Life of the Art World and The Last Party, Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night.
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