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Issue 218

The Performance Alex Da Corte Staged on the Cusp of the Pandemic

Kristian Vistrup Madsen on Da Corte’s ‘Chicken’, which resurrected a 1966 Allan Kaprow happening

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BY Kristian Vistrup Madsen in Opinion | 16 APR 21

‘Since you’re in the world now and not in art, play the game by real rules.’ So stated Allan Kaprow in his 1966 lecture ‘How to Make a Happening’, describing the governing logic by which, in his 1962 performance Chicken, a live bird was vacuumed on stage at the Gershman Y hall at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, among other antics. Chickens are killed every day, and it was the early 1960s: no reason to be naive about it. 

In March 2020, on the cusp of the pandemic, there were no real chickens when Alex Da Corte presented a reinvented version of Kaprow’s original performance in the same room at the Gershman Y. Instead, the title role was given over to none other than the moon. ‘Come breath it in!’ screamed a performer, in circus-like fashion, beating a yolk-yellow toilet brush at the audience. ‘Doesn’t it make you feel shiny? Doesn’t it make you feel bright? My oh my, isn’t it great to be WHITE?!’ The space was set up like a county fair, where the moon was advertised as the solution to just about anything. One moon purveyor promised that it can make us clean. What about virtuous? Woke? Another vendor reminded the audience that, since humans are ‘80 percent water, so the moon controls 80 percent of your life.’ It is also the key to curing your ills: ‘You’re broke? Moon! Bad at sex? Moon! [...] Look at the science!’ Each sold some version of a pie in the sky or eggs in moonshine, alleging that you might grasp the ungraspable or, as one of them claimed, ‘fold up the sky and put it in your pocket’.

Alex Da Corte, Chicken, 2020, re-enactment of Allan Kaprow, Chicken, 1962. Courtesy: ©  Alex Da Corte and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Alex Da Corte, Chicken, 2020, re-enactment of Allan Kaprow, Chicken, 1962. Courtesy: © Alex Da Corte and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

In Da Corte’s Chicken, the moon is a lot like art in that it can be anything the person on the podium says it is. It made me think that Kaprow’s idea of life as art actually did come true but that, rather than art moving out of the frame and into reality, life, politics and the rest entered art. So, let’s turn his adage around: since the world has lost touch with reality, play the game by art’s rules. To this end, Da Corte appeared in full drag as Kaprow and had decked the space in his usual high-gloss, uber-pop, hyper-real style. If, in Kaprow’s work, the artist was in a special position to strip existence of its sheen for the audience to experience more acutely, here he is as immersed in lunacy as the next person. ‘Do you want unending joy?’ – a performer deliriously cried, spinning a yellow wheel of fortune – ‘Do you want a better life?’ From the audience, Da Corte-as-Kaprow shrieked as if from the depths of his soul: ‘I NEED IT!’ 

This article first appeared in frieze issue 217 with the headline ‘Eggs in Moonshine’.

Main image: Alex Da Corte, Chicken, 2020, re-enactment of Allan Kaprow, Chicken, 1962. Courtesy: © Alex Da Corte and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York; photograph: Liz Waldie

Kristian Vistrup Madsen is an arts and culture writer based in Berlin, Germany.

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