Perform Chinatown (formerly titled Perform! Now!), is a one-night festival of performance art that takes place in Chinatown, Los Angeles. For those of you who are not familiar with performance art, it is, in essence, an art form where the artist mostly uses themselves as the medium of their art. It is a bold, provocative and often controversial, live art form. Performance art is a moment or an experience where the audience becomes an important part of the art, acting as the witness to that experience.
More than 40 artists participated in this year’s event organized by Mat Gleason of Coagula Curatorial and Charlie James of the Charlie James Gallery. The festival was first organized in 2009 and received considerably favorable reviews with participating artists like Dawn Kasper who has since evolved to the inclusion of this years Whitney Biennial. The next few years however, garnered less favorable reviews and in 2011, new organizers were unable to get along – which was apparent in the outcome. Gleason and James are not distinguished performance art curators but I commend them on keeping the event alive. Coagula Curatorial did a nice job at hosting eighties performance art legend, Karen Finley.
This years event received some harsh commentary regarding highly accomplished artists exhibiting next to amateurs and the lack of a solid curatorial vision. The event could have been a tighter show however, the context of a free, open-to-the-public, outdoor platform, needs to be taken into consideration. Perform Chinatown is a community event where people of all ages were present and regardless of the high to low brow status of the artists, work that is good, stands out.
Performance art is continually reinterpreted and redefined within varying social climates throughout history. It is the one art form that is least experienced and understood by a broader audience, however interest in performance art is growing. As it stands, Perform Chinatown is a great venue to include and introduce a spectrum of artists to the public, and to witness first-hand, a variety of expressions.