What does paradise look like? If you are Performa, the groundbreaking organization founded by RoseLee Goldberg and devoted to live performance artwork, it looks something like a Renaissance-themed party celebrating the achievements of female artists. Such was Paradiso, Performa’s fall gala, sponsored by W Magazine and Buccellati, held on Tuesday evening in the sweeping spaces of Weylin B. Seymour’s, a former bank in Williamsburg. The event honored a whopping list of “Renaissance Women of Performa,” Maria Baibakova, Melva Bucksbaum, Toby Devan Lewis, Wendy Fisher, Shelley Fox Aarons, Maja Hoffman, Joan Jonas, Pamela Joyner Wangechi Mutu, Shirin Neshat, Yvonne Rainer, Cindy Sherman, and Laurie Simmons. It also doubled as a 10-year anniversary ball for Performa. So what exactly is a Renaissance woman in the 21st century?
“I wish I could define it in a much more forward-thinking way. Compared to how I was educated, women still deserve to get more space than the amount they are given in the real and art worlds,” said Francesco Vezzoli, one of the evening’s co-hosts, along with Charlotte Gainsbourg and W Magazine Editor in Chief Stefano Tonchi. “So for me, I would define a Renaissance woman as a fighting one.”
Baibakova, decked out in a lacy gown by Alessandra Rich (a nod to both the evening’s theme and the power of female designers), had a more specific take. “I aspire to one day meet that goal, but I think the 21st century woman is one that rocks the cradle and the boardroom, who is able to have that life and work balance and who actually enjoys life, doesn’t get caught up in this myth, this race for perfection that we’re all prone to and embraces it as it comes along,” she said. “I think the Renaissance woman is able to balance giving back and also creating shared value through business or a non profit enterprise.”
“I think ultimately the people who were chosen here stand out because we are creators and we have things to offer as far as cultural products, so the idea of Renaissance fits very well with us, but I think my mother was a Renaissance woman, I think my grandmother was a Renaissance woman,” added Mutu (in Maria Cornejo). “So many woman I know are multi-faceted, brilliant, nurturing people, all these things fall under that title. So I think a Renaissance woman is a multi-tasker who is just amazing and that applies to so many of us.”
Whether everyone else was indulging in such high-minded musings was up for debate, but there was no question they were immersed in the Paradiso world. After cocktails, dinner was a choreographed performance piece by Jennifer Rubell entitled Fecunditas. Flag bearers wearing white suspender tops and backless chaps marked the numbers for each table. And dinner began with a course called “Death of the Rubber Chicken,” in which attendees were given wooden sticks with which to hit dangling rubber chickens, sprinkling their paprika contents onto the table of deviled eggs beneath them. A soup course, served at long tables at which diners all faced frontwards towards the chicken centerpiece, ended with the aforementioned rubber chickens coming crashing down as guests were instructed to smash their own bowls into the gaping hole (“I’ve never been asked to be a performer at one of these events. You won’t be hurt in anyway,” Goldberg reassured everyone).
Next up was a lavish meal including whole roasted pheasants, stuffed oysters, epic-sized hams, plates of beets and turnips and the aforementioned flag-bearers-cum-servers returning with long stems of cooked Brussels sprouts emanating from their nether regions, brandishing knives with which guests chopped off their own vegetables (that would be the “Fall Phallus” course).
Dessert was equally epic, with Goldberg leading the charge of taking hammers to the tables at which everyone had just dined, revealing their inner contents to be colored paper and boxes of Vosges chocolates and cotton candy. Cindy Sherman took particular glee in her swings as she dug for her sugary treasure. Would you expect anything less from a Renaissance woman?