Warhol Icon Happening
Wild Times at The Broad's Summer Happenings
It feels like last summer was a long time ago. What with a year filled with electoral rage politics, acquitted police shootings of black people, the withdrawal from the Paris Accord, the Wall, the reintroduction of the Mexico City Policy, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education’s yanking of transgender protections in public schools—we’re so freaked out that maybe it’s time for a break. Visionary curators Bradford Nordeen and Brandon Stosuy understand this, and have returned to The Broad museum once again to kick off its second annual Summer Happenings season with a seemingly anodyne theme: On Saturday, they treated LA to an action titled “Warhol Icon,” organized around the model/singer/Chelsea Girls star and Factory muse Nico (1938–1988). Artillery & Co. wandered by, sniffing the promise of nostalgic fun in the air, and wondered if the moment had come to kick off our heels and just have a blast.
Nico! So blond, so chic, so unconcerned with the grubby brass tacks of social justice. After all, wasn’t she the one who said that she didn’t give two damns about the boring details of state oppression? “Jim Morrison tells me that people are looking at the streets while I am looking at the moon. I do not feel connected enough [with the issues] to throw stones at a policeman. I want to throw stones at the whole world,” she once warbled to an interviewer.
Plunking down our $10 bill for the Broad’s white wine, we entertained the brief fantasy that we, too, might smile at the moon while listening to some tunes and getting tanked, ’60s style. But when we looked at our program, we realized that Nordeen and Stosuy had no intention of letting us escape entirely from today’s state of emergency. This first act was no lightweight—it was Vaginal Davis! She’s a (now Berlin-based) genderqueer artist, writer and performer who has graced the LA scene since the 1980s, and for all of this time has kept her eye directly on the street.
“NICO HATED BLACK PEOPLE,” Miss Davis hollered at us in the Broad’s intimate Oculus Hall. Dressed in golden jewelry and brown jersey couture, she did an excellent job of showing Nico up as a glittering generality—that is, as a soothing abstraction used to lull the masses into compliance. Davis reminded us that old Nico was not just Warhol’s icon of biddable femininity, but also a ferocious white supremacist who reportedly once attacked a black singer with a broken wineglass. Why do you hate black people so much, Nico? Davis hissed into the microphone, and then shrugged. “It must be because hate is such an exciting emotion.”
Now we were wide awake, and began running around the Broad campus to see if other artists would also de-glitter Nico. Did musician Geneva Jacuzzi function as a you-are-here mapping device as she performed on the Plaza stage? Or was she a siren designed to tempt you off of a political path? Resplendent in a stripy body suit and bracketed by half-naked and polka-dotted backup dancers, she wriggled before us singing what sounded like I WANT SEX but actually turned out to be I WANT SAD/I WANT SAD/MAKE ME SAD, so maybe her hermeneutics concerned the tragedy of incomplete agency and the problematics of victim blaming. The follow-up act, Norwegian songstress Jenny Hval, also offered an agnostic reinterpretation of pussy-grabs-back when she sang tracks off her 2016 album Blood Bitch while clutching what appeared to be a disemboweled teddy bear.
Nao Bustamante’s excellent lobby installation of a crochet-swathed television featuring images of Bustamante crying while drinking red wine and flipping channels reminded us of our own healthy coping mechanisms. Jesy Fortino of Tiny Vipers, up on the third floor, wore a fetching orange beanie while poking at a music computer. The machinery sent out extremely loud waves of cochlea-breaking synth dissonance. We clutched at our heads and recalled the moments in our lives when people said that we were overreacting as we tried to explain that power might be invisible yet also so insidious that it kills.
Then it was time to get reminded that we are damned. Kembra Pfahler of the shock-punk-performance band The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black did the honors. Pfahler appeared before us in the Oculus painted orange, wearing a teetering black Troll wig, and bookended by comely blue and red girl clones. “This thing is supposed to be about Nico,” Pfahler drawled. “Ughg, yeah. There was this LA Times reporter who interviewed me earlier and was super cute. Where is he? Also, the production coordinator at the Broad is really mean and made me come here at 10 o’clock this morning for a meeting.” With that, the women quickly stripped off their clothes and broke into a banging version of “Ghost Boyfriend.” Pfahler’s wig fell off and she did a naked headstand and then inserted an upside-down cross into her vagina.
For a moment, atavistic religious panic replaced Trump-induced arrhythmia, and we found ourselves doing the Pogo. Was this throwing rocks at the whole planet? Or maybe we were just being socially conscious while also completely out of our minds?
“Performance art is not entertainment!” Pfahler screamed at us, as midnight closed in and the crowd roared back in a happy frenzy.
Photography by Chris Jarvis