The 22nd Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit & Auction
By ELGA WIMMER, AUG. 2015
Founded by avant-garde visionary Robert Wilson, The Watermill Center is an interdisciplinary laboratory for the arts and humanities located on Long Island’s East End. The Watermill Center is dedicated to supporting young and emerging artists through its year-round artist residency, its International Summer Program, education programs, and open rehearsals.
Robert Wilson has long been my favorite performance artist and director, from “Einstein on the Beach,” in collaboration with Philip Glass, breaking all rules of conventional opera, to “Black Rider,” a collaboration between Mr. Wilson, musician Tom Waits, and writer William Burroughs. I was lucky to experience both operas at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. Robert Wilson’s vision and capacity to break boundaries in performance art, from opera to cutting-edge contemporary music, has made him one of the most influential contemporary performance artists.
The theme of this year’s Watermill Center Summer Benefit & Auction was “The Circus of Stillness...power over wild beasts.” A dramatic entrance to this theme, in terms of the visual as well as the atmospheric were the torches, and what seemed like artificial fog, alongside the steps leading to the main building and the open areas and forests around it. In the latter one was greeted by hooded performance artists with axes that looked much like medieval hangmen. It is a performance by Estonian artist Ann Miriam Vaikla, in which masked figures wield sledgehammers against monoliths set in the woods, which alight smoke bombs, and are accompanied by a dramatic Arvo Paert composition. Robert Wilson recently collaborated with this composer in Estonia.
Los Angeles artist Cleon Peterson’s red figures are erected along the path to the Africa House. In the Africa House one got to meet the noise super group Barrsheadahl, consisting of Mick Barr (guitar), Kevin Shea (drums), and Tim Dahl (bass). Acclaimed Puerto Rican artist Figueroa had an installation of four “Bed Paintings.” It was “Le Beau au Bois Dormant” and not “La Belle …,” young men asleep under a cover of the artist’s paintings.
Israeli transgender artist Holban presented his unique blend of songs, sculpture, and performance. Hidden behind a mask, the artist manifested a mesmerizing ballad of country music, reminiscent of a young Willie Nelson.
Harvard educated architect Rodriguez-Noyola presented an installation in which a sleeping glittering “mermaid” rests on a platform with the threat of an Indonesian stone pillar hovering above her head. Surreal and dreamy, this installation was a particular site-specific success, as the light in the forest during sunset was captured in the girl’s luminescent face and dress.
A dance group in summer costumes, accompanied by vocalists, was the only very lively and up-beat performance of this rather moody and demure night. It was Sierra Casady of CocoRosie with dancers and performers, who were staged by Robert Wilson into a short playful performance.
The presentation of the art works for the auction benefitting the Watermill Center was housed in an open exhibition space, with visitors floating in and out! Some of the highlights included a portrait by Tseng Kwong Chi of Keith Haring in the Pop Shop Window in New York, an Anthony Gormley work on paper, a Robert Wilson “Bessie Smith breakfast chair” (from his famous collection of chairs), and a studio visit and lunch with Ilya and Emilia Kabakov (the famous Russian artist couple). A Marina Abramovic digital C-print “hands as energy receivers,” a Christophe de Menil photograph “trying out the glass,” Ingo Guenther’s sculpture “worldprocessor,” and several prints by Annie Leibovitz were also outstanding. A dinner with a live auction heralded by star auctioneer Simon de Pury highlighted the end of the successful 22nd annual Watermill Center summer benefit and auction. WM