Algus Greenspon Gallery presents an exhibition by Stuart Brisley opening on Saturday March 12, 6-8 pm.
Stuart Brisley (b. 1933) is the preeminent performance artist of post-war England. His grueling, politically charged actions of the late 1960s and 1970s are iconic. Works like And for today...nothing (1972)–where the artist lay submerged in fetid bath water laced with offal–and You Know it Makes Sense (with reference to allegations against the British Army in Ulster concerning torture) of the same year, are textbook examples. Whitney curator Chrissie Isles regards Brisley as a “missing link to understanding the younger [British] artists [like Damien Hirst] who got so much more attention.” Yet, as influential as Brisley’s work has been, it is little known in the United States: this exhibition, presenting an overview of performances, paintings, sculpture and video from 1960 to the present, is the artist’s first in New York.
The past dozen years have seen great interest in writing performance into the history of recent art. Exhibitions such as LA MOCA’s 1998 Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949–1979 (which included Brisley’s work), and MOMA’s current Staging Action: Performance in Photography since 1960 (which does not) have shown performance and its photo documentation to be a significant part of the history of post-war art.
Stuart Brisley’s art is grounded in his experiences growing up during WWII and subsequent military service in post-war Germany. His father’s work as a union organizer and anti-monarchist Republican is formative as well. Early assemblages and paintings, one of which is included here, share the dark existential tenor of artists like Tàpies and Burri. The years Brisley spent in the States in the early 1960s provided a different perspective: upon returning to London the artist perceived in England a sober new reality and radically redefined his ideas regarding art’s social and political roles. His first live actions, done in 1966, sought an art “in which there were to be no intermediaries and no interpretations between the action (art) and the public.” In this manner, Brisley provides political context going “straight back to the Popular English Radicals” of the 19th Century.
In addition to performance documentation and paintings, the current exhibition includes two major sculptural installations, The Collection of Ordure (2002) and Intimations of Abfall (2000) that were made in collaboration with Brisley’s alter ego RY Sirb for an ongoing project, The UK Museum of Ordure (www.museum-ordure.org.uk). First shown in 2002 at the Freud Museum in London, these works realize Brisley’s concern with things base and defiled while making manifest the Museum of Human Excrement described in Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). Included as well is Arbeit Macht Frei (1973), a video whose title refers to the motto above the entrance gate at Auschwitz, and that alludes to films depicting concentration camps that were required viewing for British school children and soldiers after the war.