Summer Happening at The Broad

Summer Happening at The Broad

Mutant Salon Saved the Evening

In 1963, artist Allan Kaprow held a “Tree Happening” at George Segal’s New Jersey farm. Kaprow’s written instructions commanded a crowd holding tree saplings to venture into a field, which had been outfitted with poles bedazzled by tar-paper strips. A leader of these “forest people,” whom Kaprow dictated must be a man, began yelling and gyrating to jazz music. The forest leader then bashed the tar-paper poles with his sapling.

Kaprow later explained Happenings as events that abolished the artist-audience divide and existed within “natural time.” Also, the players should be amateurs, who never repeated this non-performance.

On June 25, The Broad museum in Los Angeles staged its first “(Non)objective Summer Happening.” The divergences between The Broad’s and Kaprow’s Happenings manifested as soon as red-lanyarded museum employees summoned visitors to queue in a long line. They scanned the patrons’ $35 tickets, which entitled us to blue admissions bracelets and, upon carding, red alcohol bracelets.  

broad happening DSC00717 Summer Happening at The Broad

I attended with my friend Chris. We bellied up to the expensive bar then waited on a lawn for the first act, the luminous Narcissister. She would dazzle us on a stage adjacent to The Broad, that Death Star in the firmament of Los Angeles art institutions.

Was this a Happening? Already, there was crowd-control, capitalism, obedience. It was fun, though: Chris and I admired comely men and women wearing exiguous outfits, as well as a dapper person wearing a “Gender is Over” T-Shirt. My favorite dandy was Ariel, a performance artist in a pink body suit with a merkin and nipples, which she accessorized with a capelet.

“I bought it at a Goodwill in Joshua Tree,” Ariel said.

But no time for talk—the show was starting at unnatural time, 8:30 sharp. Narcissister is a performance artist who competed on America’s Got Talent. She wears masks on both sides of her head, like a gender-interrogating Janus. Sometimes she puts a whole mannequin head on her crotch, so it stares at you during cartwheels. Narcissister enacted the cradle-to-grave life stages by dancing and magically swapping outfits. At the end, she pulled an old-lady mask out of her vagina and put it on her face mid-acrobatics.

broad happening DSC00710 Summer Happening at The Broad

“Did she take something out of her butt?” Chris, alluding to an earlier part of the performance.

“That was amazing,” I said, yanking him along. It was time to see Lotic, a DJ spinning “dark beats” on The Broad’s first floor, next to a Murakami. Lotic was a cool coryphée who crafted a species of noise jams that sound like aliens arguing. This proved perfect dance music, except that the hospital-bright lighting deterred the crowd from bopping wildly among the valuable Koons.

Even as I tapped my toes, I realized we operated within a disciplinary system demanding passive submission to the Fourth Wall. This violates the spirit of the original Happening, and I felt ready to deem The Broad (Non)objective Happening a (Non)Happening.

That is, until I reached the Mutant Salon.

The Mutant Salon sat in the Broad’s bowels, and was indicated by a neon sign. Inside this gallery frothed anarchic behaviors loosely tethered to the conceit of a beauty parlor. Tables strewn with wigs, nail polish and various potions scattered across the floor. In the dimly-lit center gyrated a family of Mutants, who cut up wigs and squeezed their unclad bodies into nylon stockings. At the nucleus of the Mutant makeover extravaganza sat a small circle of folks, one of whom was a naked man wearing a huge nose ring made out of wire and paper. He had tucked in his penis and was making a crown out of Play-Doh and paper.

I sat on the sidelines until I understood that the chaos contained a Kaprovian permission. I approached the circle and looked back over my shoulder to see Chris staring at the room with very wide eyes.

broad happening DSC00731 Summer Happening at The Broad

“What’s the process here?” I asked the man with the nose ring.

“What?” he asked, and upon my asking several more times he gestured vaguely at the room.

Exactly! I thought. Here was Kaprow’s, really Bakhtin’s, ecstatic space. Actually, the Mutant Salon proved far superior to the Kaprovian Happening, because Kaprow was a bossy sexist. Here we could create ourselves with nylons, wigs or nail polish. I looked for Ariel. She might like the Mutant Salon. Would I ever see her again? I would soon whisk Chris back out in search of her, and be moved also by the ballads of the band Perfume Genius and the soundscapes of Cindytalk.  

But for now, a Mutant in a stocking tied their legs with rope, and another placed a wig on her pelvis.

“Is this too ironic?” asked the Mutant making the vag-fringe.

This was the second merkin of the evening. I was in heaven.

“It’s perfect,” I said.


Photographs by Chris Jarvis