‘Rituals of Rented Island’ at the Whitney Museum

Jack Smith Whitney Museum Rituals of Rented Island
Jack Smith’s “Irrational Landlordism of Bagdad” took place in Germany in 1977.
Credit: Courtesy of Gladstone Gallery

The Whitney Museum’s current exhibition — “Rituals of Rented Island: Object Theater, Loft Performance, and the New Psychodrama-Manhattan, 1979-1980” — is a groundbreaking look at dated experimental performance art. Think of it as theater without plot, characters or narratives. It’s just absurdist acts that were ostensibly originally created to confuse and alienate audiences.

The Whitney creates an immersive experience that both documents and recreates the performances with installations of sets and environments filled with photographs, scripts, notes, props, costumes and promotional materials. While this exhibit may overwhelm viewers through its multitude of ephemera plastered on the museum walls, the performances themselves are fascinating.

Here’s a guide to the exhibition’s highlights:

  • Art-house darling Jack Smith’s “Irrational Landlordism of Bagdad” (1977) combines his loathing of private property and his kitschy love of exoticism.
  • Rainer’s “this is the story of a woman who….” (1973) involves dance, plotting an intimate relationship and the contradictions between one’s inner thoughts and physical actions.
  • Vito Acconci’s “Claim” (1971) shows the artist blindfolded at the bottom of a basement stairwell murmuring obscenities while swinging a crowbar at anyone who dares enter the apartment.
  • Ken Jacobs’s “Slow is Beauty” – Rodin (1974) is 3-D shadow play, where young actors, backlit by polarized lights behind sheets, perform mundane tasks to the accompaniment of ambient noise.

‘Rituals of Rented Island’
Through Feb. 2, 2014
Wednesdays–Sundays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
The Whitney Museum,
945 Madison Avenue
General admission $20,
Free Fridays 6-9 p.m.
212-570-3600, www.whitney.org

Also showing

“Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE” exudes Americana through graphic design-inspired paintings consumed by bold colors and declarative statements. You’ve surely seen and enjoyed Indiana’s famous squared sculpture, “Love” (1965), so go experience his other hard-edged, polychromic canvases through Jan. 5.


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