On ViewThe Kitchen
November 18, 2021 – March 12, 2022
Stepping out into the cold night air onto the uneven rooftop of The Kitchen after climbing 40–100 stairs (depending on where you enter the stairwell), intrepid visitors are graciously treated to hot tea and a sensory feast served up by artist, impresario, trickster, mystifarian Papo Colo. Combining painting, poetry, video, and sound in an immersive installation that invites attendees into the inner sanctum of his mind, Ceremonies is a powerful new work commissioned by The Kitchen as part of In Support, an exhibition that reflects on ways institutions offer and receive support. It is an appropriate context for the “coming out” of 75-year-old artist Papo Colo, well known by the 40+ downtown crowd, but whose work has been hiding in full view for decades. It is a seminal moment for The Kitchen, too, which, as one of the oldest nonprofit spaces that, since 1971, has presented pioneering work across all disciplines, just celebrated its 50th birthday and has a new Executive Director, Legacy Russell, at the helm. For In Support, Curator of Media and Engagement Alison Burstein invited artists Papo Colo, Fia Backström, Francisca Benítez, and Clynton Lowry to use and activate The Kitchen’s interstitial spaces such as the lobby, ceiling, roof, stairwells, and offices to highlight the opportunities, limitations, and responsibilities of the institution towards artists, audiences, and staff. Embedding in the exhibition’s DNA a public scrutiny of its institutional structures and mission reaffirms Russell’s declaration of believing deeply about “giving artists the support to take monumental risks.”
The plot thickens. Colo is well known—not for his art but as the co-founder and curator with his life partner, Jeanette Ingberman, of the legendary Exit Art, an alternative art space that opened in 1982 and closed in 2012, one year after Ingberman’s untimely death. Exit Art showed and actively supported more than 2,500 artists, many for the first time, including David Wojnarowicz, David Hammonds, Martin Wong, Vito Acconci, Adrian Piper, and Shirin Neshat, and it housed Trickster Theater, Colo’s laboratory for experimental theater and performance. But before and during Exit Art, Colo was a pioneering performance artist who made paintings, drawings, videos, graphic design, wrote poetry, and played music. Feeling marginalized by American museums and institutions as a Puerto Rican living in the US, Colo’s work is grounded in concepts of political and cultural identity and hybridity. After his 30-year love story came to a tragic end, Colo moved out of the public eye to grieve and cultivate his own ideas and rituals in an art practice that continues to be subversive yet romantic, political yet personal. Resourceful even in seclusion, Colo took to posting his artwork, writings, ruminations, and manifestos daily on Facebook, a social media platform that he transformed into a private/public alternative space, a diary, and an archive. There he introduced Pangea Art Republic, his next-level alternative space that is at once studio, performance space, artist residency, and utopia. Set in El Yunque Rainforest in Puerto Rico where he travels back and forth from his Canal Street home studio, Pangea is a fusion of art, life, and nature that grew out of a sensibility and sense of self that is simultaneously authentic and cultivated. A place, a concept, an experiment, and a dream that Colo lives, breathes, and manifests as the consummate Mystifarian artist, Pangea Art Republic has arrived on the roof of The Kitchen as an artist’s offering and a bold assertion of his artistic vision.
“Maybe dreaming is the singular performance we all do.” This is the first and perhaps defining haiku of nineteen that flash every thirty seconds in white letters against a black ground on two rooftop projection screens. The two screens are engaged in a remarkable architectural dialogue with the very urban Chelsea skyscape, particularly with the luminous, glass Frank Gehry building they appear to physically encroach on, along with an adjacent brick apartment building and an assemblage of ductwork for The Kitchen’s mechanical systems. The screens are the sites for the nearly eight minute video portion of Ceremonies, a rhythmic succession of short poems that Colo wrote and orchestrated to alternate, on the left screen, with video of the artist’s head shifting restlessly in and out of dreams and, on the right, with changing video images and rushing sounds of cascading water. The interlacing of these images and sounds with the recurring and potent references to dreams and sounds in the haiku enfold viewers into the artist’s reveries on existence.
After the video cycle, viewers turn around to the illumination of Three Balls of Fire (2021), an impressive painting (able to withstand the elements) comprised of three six by nine foot canvases stapled directly to the wall. A continuous horizon line differentiating sky from water stretches across all three canvases while a fiery comet ignites, enhances, and unifies a sense of celestial dimensionality as it shoots and dances in a cinematic narrative across the painted firmament. Cosmic snowballs comprised of dust and gases that form tails stretching for millions of miles as they orbit the sun, comets represent a fearsome beauty that Colo captures through innovative painting techniques that he describes as “made in Mystifarian method—one traditional, two invented.” The alternation between the painting’s illumination and the video cycle continues throughout the evening’s two-hour period. Immersed in the nocturnal, open-air, urban landscape experience and transfixed by a dream-induced and painted poetry, visitors to Ceremonies on the Kitchen roof this winter will discover, or rediscover, Papo Colo, artist and founder of Pangea Art Republic and his multi-media mythology extended as a reinvention of the world based on the mystery of creativity.
(Ceremonies can be viewed on select Fridays and Saturdays through March 2022 from 6-8 pm. Free timed tickets are required.)