Artist, composer, and singer Jill Kroesen was an essential figure in the 1970s downtown New York performance milieu, working at the intersection of experimental music and then-emerging performance art. After studying at Mills College with composer Robert Ashley, she embarked on a series of performances that defied categorization, such as Stanley Oil and His Mother: A Systems Portrait of the Western World (1977), The Original Lou and Walter Story (1978) and Excuse Me, I Feel Like Multiplying (1979). With these performances, she invented a space between structuralist theater, graphically-scored musical composition, and cabaret. In the words of performance critic Sally Banes, “condensing political events with soap opera plots and infantile rationalizations about the way the world works,” Kroesen’s “systems portraits,” as she came to call her works, manifested socioeconomic, sexual, and gender politics through funny, ramshackle, and chaotic performances. Archival documentation of these works was presented at the Whitney in the exhibition Rituals of Rented Island in 2013.
In Kroesen’s systems portraits, an individual might personify a virus, a gender, or a superpower, revealing the power dynamics embedded in social structures and world politics by means of personal drama. In Excuse Me, I Feel Like Multiplying, for example, we experience Cold War negotiations as a fight between Kroesen (the USSR), and another woman (the US president), over a boyfriend (the underdeveloped country). While methodically structured and carefully scripted, Kroesen’s plays are nevertheless casually untheatrical, often made up of a cast of non-actors. As a way of revealing patterns in human nature, narrative often develops through loose, game-like systems that Kroesen directs and narrates in her unmistakably deadpan style, as in Stanley Oil and His Mother: A Systems Portrait of the Western World, a ten-act, two-and-a-half hour epic. Representing different countries and social classes spanning from evolution to the present day, the cast performs rote activities with props according to Stanley, the ruler (played by Kroesen), and becomes increasingly rowdy and disobedient as civilization progresses and as the evening goes on. Kroesen’s performances almost always include several of her original songs, and with names like "Honey, You’re So Mean" and "Fay Shism Blues," they add another layer of satire to her projects. In 1982, Kroesen released Stop Vicious Cycles under the Lovely Music record label, an LP compilation that stands up as a work in its own right.
After an artistic hiatus of over thirty years, she returns this summer with a new show at the Whitney, Collecting Injustices, Unnecessary Suffering. This theatrical performance features original songs, dance, and the participation of many of her past collaborators—including an elaborate sculptural set designed and constructed by Jared Bark and costumes by Mary Kay Stolz. In this new performance, Kroesen allegorizes the structures of parenting, socialization, and control that shape individual lives and collective society. Employing Kroesen’s own unique approach to portraiture, this performance coincides with the Whitney’s collection exhibition Human Interest.
The theatrical environment for Collecting Injustices, Unnecessary Suffering will be on view July 27–31, during regular Museum Hours in the Museum’s Hess Theater.
Installation on View
July 27–28, 10:30 am–3 pm
July 29–31, 10:30 am–4 pm
July 29–31, 8 pm *Please note: this event has reached ticketing capacity on Saturday and Sunday, July 29 and 30.
Collecting Injustices, Unnecessary Suffering is organized by Jay Sanders, Engell Speyer Family Curator and Curator of Performance.
Major support for the Whitney’s Performance Program is provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
In-kind support is provided by Yamaha Artistic Services, New York.
Generous support is also provided by the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Performance Committee of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Jared Bark is an artist whose work has appeared in When Attitudes Become Form at Kunsthalle Bern (1969), Four Evenings, Four Days at the Whitney Museum (1976), and in solo exhibitions at 112 Greene Street Gallery and the Bykert/Downtown gallery, New York. He joined Holly Solomon Gallery when it opened in 1975. His performance work has appeared at the Museum of Modern Art, Hallwalls (Buffalo, New York), and documenta 6 in Kassel, Germany, and recently in Rituals of Rented Island at the Whitney Museum (2013) and Jared Bark: Photobooth Works and Performance Videos, 1969–1976 at Southfirst gallery and Sarah Lawrence College (2015). His works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Centre Pompidou, among other institutions. His Untitled (1971) is currently on view as part of the Whitney’s exhibition Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney's Collection. Bark also began designing and making frames for fellow artists in his SoHo loft in 1969, founding the company that ultimately became Bark Frameworks. He lives with his wife, the artist Lois Lane, in New York City and Warwick, New York.
Eric Barsness has performed a wide range of new and classical music. In April he performed in the world premiere of Recollections: Songs From Aphasia by "Blue" Gene Tyranny and Mary Griffin. Roulette Intermedium presented his concert of world premieres by Christopher Berg, David Behrman, Joe Hannan, Jill Kroesen, and Frankie Mann in November 2013. His recent roles with Delaware Valley Opera include Don Basilio in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and Don Alfonso in Mozart’s Cosí fan tutte. He studied dance and piano at Oberlin College and was a founding member of ODC San Francisco before forming his own dance company, which was active in New York through the 1980s. He can be heard (and seen) on CD in David Behrman’s My Dear Siegfried (XI Records), on DVD in Frankie Mann and Mary Griffin’s I Land, and as chef Antonin Carème in Terri Hanlon’s video Meringue Diplomacy. He studies voice with Carol Yahr, and works as director of development for Puppies Behind Bars.
Carol Clements first performed with Jill Kroesen in the early days of New York City’s performance art scene. While maintaining a primary focus in modern dance, Carol has appeared in music videos in the 80s, various experimental theatrical productions, comedy clubs, cabarets, and commercial feature films. In addition to dancing and touring with numerous artists, Carol has presented her own choreography at venues such as Dance Theater Workshop/New York Live Arts, The Kitchen, La MaMa, The Joyce Theater, Dia Center for the Arts, and Celebrate Brooklyn. Most recently, Carol performed and choreographed in Terri Hanlon’s micro-features Inversion of Solitude and Meringue Diplomacy, viewable on UbuWeb.
Beth Franzese was born in the Bronx in 1952. She was trained in the Isadora Duncan tradition, ballet and modern dance, and later performed as a go-go dancer for over fifteen years. In 1965, Beth attended the High School of Art and Design, where she studied photography, film, and architecture and participated in many political protest marches. Beth continued to study photography at FIT before joining a graduate program at Hunter College in Sports Medicine. She later attended the Rolf Institute for Structural Integration and has been practicing in that field since 1985. Beth practices martial arts and has received black belts in Tae Kwon Do and Aikido. In 2014 she published All Gorgeous Creatures, a book of short NY stories.
Peter Gordon (composer, saxophonist, producer) first began collaborating with Jill Kroesen in 1973, when they were both graduate students at Mills College, and they have been working together ever since. Gordon has performed with his Love of Life Orchestra since 1977. He has an ongoing collaboration of video and music performances with Kit Fitzgerald, has composed four operas and numerous scores and soundtracks, and received Obie and Bessie Awards. Work with Lawrence Weiner includes films, recordings and an opera The Society Architect Ponders the Golden Gate Bridge. A frequent collaborator of the late Arthur Russell, he has been touring Arthur Russell’s INSTRUMENTALS, directed by Peter Gordon. He produced records for Arthur Russell, Rhys Chatham, Laurie Anderson, and Jill Kroesen, and was music producer for Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives, as well as the Spanish-language version, Vidas Perfectas. Recent recordings include the retrospective Love of Life Orchestra (DFA Records), Beachcombing, with Factory Floor, and Symphony 5; and his new album with Tim Burgess, Same Language, Different Worlds will be released in September. Gordon is Professor of Music at Bloomfield College.
Marcy Gregory hails from New Jersey originally, but has lived in Palm Desert, California for forty years, where she is an assemblage sculptor. She is a tap student of three years and also hikes and bikes with her husband in the desert mountains. Also, she was once a helicopter mom—but, not a controlling one!
Joe Hannan performed with Jill Kroesen in dozens of club gigs and staged performances in the 1970s and 1980s. Venues included the Mudd Club, the Performing Garage, CBGB, and the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Roxbury, MA. Hannan is a pianist and composer whose own music for voices and instruments includes two short operas with librettist Mary Griffin. His other collaborators have included Eric Barsness, Eric Bogosian, Carol Clements, Bill T. Jones, and Robert Longo.
Massimo Iacoboni, a native of Italy, is a veteran of Rome’s Teatro Immagine, an experimental theatre movement of the 1970s. He debuted on the New York stage in 1977 at La MaMa, appearing in Locus Solus, a production based on Raymond Roussel’s novel by the same title. In 1976 he performed with Alba Clemente in Tradimenti n. 2, a surrealist work held in an abandoned navy yard in Venice and directed by Meme Perlini. In 1978 he directed the absurdist play The difficulty of being homosexual in Siberia, a rewriting of L’Homosexuel ou la difficulté de s’exprimer by the French-Argentine humorist Raul Damonte Botana (known as Copi). More recently, he was featured in video artist Terri Hanlon’s experimental documentary Meringue Diplomacy, based on the life of 18th century French celebrity chef Marie-Antoine Caréme. He has lived in New York City since 1980.
Pooh Kaye, a choreographer and filmmaker, is known for both her "carefully crafted compositions that teem with the seemingly chaotic effects of life itself," as described by Jennifer Dunning in the New York Times, and her award winning stop-motion animated films. She has been making films and dances since 1975. Kaye’s early work was seen at the Holland Festival, the Whitney Museum, the New York Poetry Project, The Kitchen and Danspace Project. Her company, Eccentric Motions, founded in 1983, has performed in New York at MoMA, Lincoln Center, the Kitchen, and the Joyce Theater; nationally at the American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina, and Jacob’s Pillow in Lee, Massachusetts; and internationally in the Holland Festival, the Jerusalem Festival and at Spiral Hall in Tokyo. Pooh Kaye has been the recipient of six National Endowment Dance Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship for Dance, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship.
Sharon Mattlin performed in the 1970s and 1980s with Jackson Mac Low, Hannah Weiner, and many others. Sharon performed with Jill Kroesen in Fay Shism Began in the Home, Stanley Oil and His Mother, Who is the Real Marlon Brando and Excuse Me I Feel Like Multiplying. She was the co-editor of the NYC Poetry Calendar in the 1980s and 1990s, and her troupe the Bowery Bum-ettes has performed at The Kitchen, Franklin Furnace, and the St. Marks Poetry Project. She's since made her career in noncommercial radio and largely commercial audiobooks.
Gabe Rubin is a musician, performer, and filmmaker. His work has been shown at MIX NYC, the Brooklyn Film Festival, and MOCA Los Angeles, and explores the horrors of persona, nostalgia, and transition. He frequently collaborates with the artist Felix Bernstein. Together they staged the performance Bieber Bathos Elegy at the Whitney Museum in January 2016.
Mary Kay Stolz has been a costume designer for feature films and TV, including custom music and performance design for Michael Jackson, Prince, Eddie Murphy, and others. She originated and directed the Advanced Study Program in Film and TV Costume Design at Los Angeles’ Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising for many years, often in creative collaboration with the American Film Institute.