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WHAT IS PERFORMANCE ART? According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “a nontraditional art form often with political or topical themes that typically features a live presentation to an audience or onlookers (as on a street) and draws on such arts as acting, poetry, music, dance, or painting.”
May we stretch this to “vacuuming” or “flag trodding”? May we include the audience or onlookers as performance members?
If so, I offer two examples of performance art: Jennifer Rubell’s Ivanka Vacuuming, currently at the Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, D.C., the art performed daily until February 17, 2019; and Old Glory: The American Flag in Contemporary Art, an exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum in 1996.
A vast continent separates me from Washington, D.C., and, alas, I’m unable to contribute to the vacuuming. However, Wife Dottie and I had involvement, albeit minor, in the Phoenix performance art.
Ivanka Vacuuming has an Ivanka Trump lookalike vacuuming a pink carpet, two hours each day, in a portion of the art gallery. Nearby is a huge pile of bread crumbs, with onlookers encouraged to toss handfuls onto the carpet.
“Ivanka” is vacuuming in high heels and wearing a dress reminiscent of one the real Ivanka wore to the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, July 2017.
Artist Jennifer Rubell said, “It all started when I saw footage of Ivanka at the G20 summit wearing that pink dress with the bow sleeves…. I wasn’t judging it—it was just such an unusual choice. It piqued my interest, and my piece evolved out of that.”
“The vacuuming was almost like accessorizing the outfit…. And then I wanted viewers to be staked in that activity by creating the reason Ivanka was vacuuming in the first place, so that’s where the crumbs came in.”
Interpretations include Ivanka cleaning up her father’s mess. The crumb tossing also implies complicity: “It was important to me,” Rubell said, “that the viewer and the Ivanka figure together took responsibility for what she was doing.”
Neither the real Ivanka nor her father appreciated this particular performance art. Ivanka tweeted, “Women can choose to knock each other down or build each other up. I choose the latter.”
Trump’s tweet: “Sad, but not surprising to watch self professed “feminists” launching sexist attacks against @Ivanka Trump. In their crazed world, sexism is OK if it hurts their political enemies.
That’s ok, they can go put on their stupid hats & she’ll get back to actually fighting for women.”
Discuss: Compare Donald J. Trump’s tweet with Harry S Truman’s retort to the music critic’s view of his daughter’s soprano recital. Extra points: Compare Margaret Truman’s singing with Ivanka Trump’s business ethics.
Old Glory: The American Flag in Contemporary Art was an exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum back in 1996. Previously it had been in Cleveland (where it was curated) and Colorado Springs, but Phoenix was where several of its elements gained notoriety.
Not all of the exhibit was celebratory of the flag. The exhibit’s catalog also cited “the pluralistic, frequently discordant cultural and political life of the late 20th century.”
One of its most controversial elements was What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag? It had a photomontage of flag use and abuse, a visitor book for comments, and, in the most direct approach to the visitor book, a U.S. flag stretched out on the floor.
This installation and others generated controversy, some erupting during the Copperstate 1000 old car rally, held annually to benefit the Phoenix Art Museum.
We knew Jim Ballinger, long-time director of the museum, through our participation in the Copperstate over its first decade. I recall inviting him to navigate one year on part of the rally route. Indeed, it might have been 1996, when the museum had Old Glory: The American Flag in Contemporary Art as its principal exhibit.
Caught up in the inevitable controversy, Jim said, “If the test of a good museum is both to entertain and encourage people to think and react, then this exhibit is surely a huge success.”
And, so, I would think, is Ivanka Vacuuming. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019