So, amid all the chaos of Frieze Week, did we see anything good? Sure we did! Maybe the best was one of the most unexpected, the Calder Foundation-sponsored “Oh, You Mean Cellophane and All That Crap,” an epic 12-hour art jam, held at 542 West 27th Street, aka the McKittrick Hotel, aka The Place Where They Do “Sleep No More.” Reached via a decrepit elevator that allowed only five at a time — meaning, at some times, long lines to get in — the event packed an extraordinary amount of disorienting art into one generous segment of space-time. The theme was garage experimentation, highlighted by an unexpectedly funky, musical Calder mobile viewable through a hole in a wall, as well as the the dusty, funky space itself.
Among a disparate but note-perfect selection of artworks — curated by Katherine Cohn, Kevin Barry, and Gryphon Rower-Upjohn — the Calder sculpture was placed in interplay with a strange Darren Bader piece, essentially some pizza in a dissected dishwasher; one of Zilvinas Kempinas‘s magical, minimal sculptures incorporating only a loop of magnetic tape and a column of air; a row of smellable books from Cory Arcangel (as in, you were meant to smell them and not read them) laid out on a table for your olfactory perusal and looking very much like non-art; a James Turrell hologram, which in this venue seemed like a ghostly transmission from another planet; and a T of Dan Flavin neons in a corner, casting an electric green glow over it all.
It was, however, the rolling slate of performances, constantly springing up in new places amid the crowd, that made the half-lit dungeon-like environment a place where you could lose track of all time. Over the course of the night, Liz Magic Laser restaged her political pantomime work from her recent Derek Eller show, with two performers turning the gestures of Bush and Obama into a kind of experimental dance; the duo Loud Objects did some kind of musical (?) performance that involved soldering wires on an overhead projector, unleashing unexpected waves of sounds; an experimental jam band used the movements of beetles across a pentagram as the musical score for their free-flowing music; and the wild and crazy Jacolby Satterwhite executed a freaked-out dance, clad in a silver bodysuit with an iPad-enabled headdress/mask, gyrating wildly before onlookers as digital psychedelia played on a towering screen behind him.
There were weird moments. A reperformance of a solemn James Lee Byars work was temporarily buried in the crowd as new performances erupted elsewhere. The performer sat, cold and still, in meditation, until a half hour later the crowd parted, attention returned to her, and she finished the ritual in studied concentration. Not what Byars had in mind, maybe — but this disorienting character was also what felt most vital about the event. And there were transcendent moments too, as when Victoria Brooks, the evening’s film curator (of the nomadic British outfit The Island), put on an amazing 16-millimeter black-and-white film by Mary Ellen Bute, a lost gem of abstract cinema from the 1930s, whose theme of pairing mechanical shapes to music nevertheless chimed with the long evening’s loose-limbed experimental tone.
All in all, “Oh, You Mean Cellophane and All That Crap” certainly felt fresh and unexpected in a wonderful way. And if the funky and free-flowing vibe is not what you expect from Calder, well, better that than he be reduced to a demure stereotype. That’s the very definition of keeping a legacy alive, isn’t it?