Last night, Performa held a Surrealist event for its annual benefit ball with a tribute to Relâche.


Promising a “multi-sensorial experience” redolent of the most anarchic Surrealist events, Performa saluted that pioneering movement last night at its annual benefit ball with a tribute to Relâche, the groundbreaking ballet staged by Francis Picabia and composer Erik Satie in 1924. Revelers showed up at the Surrealist soiree in fanciful concoctions of black and white, though for craftier types wanting to ramp up their look, there were costuming stations chock-a-block with sculptural forms, hats, and even a pair of drooping breasts painted on to a canvas necklace.

While a 12-piece orchestra played selections from Satie, conceptual photographer Ryan McNamara, playing the role of Picabia, led a chorus line of mostly men in white leotards in his own reimagining of Relâche—then left them grounded once he was hoisted by ropes high aloft the 500 guests. As McNamara dangled overhead for the duration of dinner, guests including Cindy Sherman, gallerist Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, curator Massimilio Gioni and Zero designer Maria Cornejo tucked into the Dali and Magritte-inspired menu—stuffed quail served in gilded birdcages anyone?—and wondered aloud at what, precisely, they were eating. (For the record: urchins, snails, root vegetables.) The piece de resistance, however, was the Surrealist set, meant to occasionally blind the crowd and fashioned from 500 gold-painted vinyl records, each with a lightbulb inside of it.

The evening’s honoree, fittingly, was curator and art historian Milly Glimcher, whose historical exhibition “Happenings: New York, 1958-1963” at the Pace gallery this past spring documented the early days of the city’s Fluxus movement, which were inspired in part by the performances of the Surrealists and Dadists. Sitting at Glimcher’s table were Carolee Scheemann and Red Grooms, those Fluxus artists whose own experiments paved the way for many of the younger artists in the room, among them Adam Pendleton, Liz Magic Laser and McNamara. Pop songstress Sia topped off the evening and savoring it all was Performa’s founder and driving force RoseLee Goldberg, who has helped guide the once-fringe medium to center stage. If in doubt, just look at how performance art has stormed the barricades at MoMA, the Guggenheim, the Whitney Biennial and even the Academy Awards. Watch for Performa 13, the biennial’s fifth edition, running November 1-24, 2013.

Photos: Clint Spaulding/