A Duchampian Romp, even
Playwright: Greg Allen and John Pierson
At: Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland
Phone: ( 773 ) 275-5255; $12
Runs through: February 22
BY RICK REED
He's probably best known for his cubist painting, 'Nude Descending a Staircase.' But Marcel Duchamp ( 1887-1968 ) garnered a solid reputation during his lifetime for being an artistic proponent of the surreal and founder of the Dadaist school of artistic thought. 'I don't believe in art. I believe in artists,' Duchamp once said, and his life, both in France and the United States, lived out that credo.
Duchamp would have approved of the performance piece created by Greg Allen and John Pierson because, while it does possess structure and theme, the show is mostly about creation, and about the artists as much as it is about the famous man it professes to concern. Allen and Pierson bare their own thoughts and personalities ( and bodies, in the opening chess sequence ) throughout this homage, saying a lot about why they chose Duchamp as the subject of their latest show. Inserting themselves into their piece, and blurring the lines between viewer and viewed, results in an examination of a great artistic figure as well as an examination of their own fascination and lives as creators. In one whimsical scene ( the show is comprised of 22 vignettes, set pieces that move us through Duchamp's life ) , Pierson continually inserts himself into Duchamp's art, carrying it to an extreme so ridiculous that his on-stage partner tells him to stop.
The latest Neo-Futurist creation really soars. There's genius and innovation behind what it sets out to accomplish. At heart, the show is a pretty straightforward biography of the artist, taking us through the whole spectrum of Duchamp's life, from birth to death. What really makes this piece shine is that it's done with Duchampian style and wit. The vignettes lead us very logically through Duchamp's family history, riffs on what his very early, childhood artistic output might have been, weaves in dreams as a source of creativity, demonstrates the role accidents ( in particular bicycle accidents ) might have played in his creative process, explores Duchamp's gender bending, and wraps all of this around the logic of chess, a game of which opens and closes the show.
This is not dry stuff. Allen and Pierson have infused their avant-garde program with a lot of wit and whimsy; they seem to be enjoying putting on the show as much as the opening night audience enjoyed viewing it. Duchamp would have approved, I think, of their choice to have the show 'disrupted' by Donovan Sherman, who can be seen running through the background in various guises: nude, trench coat, bloodied shirt, with a cowboy hat, and more, making about as much sense as his first appearance and urge to the audience to 'turn on all your cell phones and beepers.' But that's precisely the point.
This is good stuff, spoken in the language of Dada created by Duchamp. As the artist himself said, 'The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.' Get in on the act; it's worth it.