MOCA Members’ Day Celebration: Mike Kelley, with presentations by Anita Pace, Kim Gordon and Jutta Koether, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, March 30, 2014

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What an emotional weekend for the long-beleaguered MOCA. The museum simultaneously debuted their new director, Philippe Vergne, and brought home the biggest survey exhibition to date of Los Angeles’ most beloved prodigal art son, Mike Kelley. At Friday’s media preview, it seemed like the last five years (dear God, has it really been that long?) were just a really bad acid trip out of which we suddenly, collectively awoke.

Check it: MOCA has a director who acts like an art museum director and seems like a really cool guy to boot. The Geffen is beautifully installed with important work by an internationally regarded artist with deep ties to the local community. Artists are back on the MOCA board. It was a spectacularly sunny spring day in LA and everything seemed to make sense again, at last.

The sunshine and festivities continued throughout the weekend, concluding on Sunday with the Members’ Day celebration, which featured two special performances: a restaging of Pansy Metal / Clovered Hoof, a 1989 dance piece choreographed by Kelley and Anita Pace (and danced in the present day by Erica Carpenter, Beau Dobson, Lindsey Lollie and Jos McKain), and a spoken word/noise tribute from longtime Kelley pals Kim Gordon and Jutta Koether.

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The former ran into some trouble when one of the four dancers failed to show up due to a medical emergency. After some quick retooling, the remaining three dancers soldiered on with a slightly modified version of the dance. If you went into it without any familiarity with the work, as I did, you wouldn’t have known that anything was wrong. The three dancers did an amazing job and the work was as breathtaking as it always is.

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Originally conceived as a parody of the heavy metal genre, which was on the ascent in the late 80s, PM/CF is a magnificently primitive and tribal dance set to the driving beat of Motörhead’s “Orgasmatron.” The dancers stomp and parade around like Neanderthals while dressed in long silk banners emblazoned with Kelley’s ironic iconography. Underneath the banners, they are wearing nothing but BVDs and shoes—boots for the boys, ballet wraps for the girls. The dance is meant to feminize heavy metal and poke fun at its overblown rituals by mimicking a runway fashion show.

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Danced as it was on Sunday by extremely attractive young people, who maintained deadpan serious faces the whole time, it managed to be both wildly sexy and cool, and hilariously ridiculous at the same time. The kids often seemed like puppets, jerked around by the relentless music and dutifully assuming its approved poses. They looked so good doing it though, that you longed to join them. The memory of the infectious spectacle lingered in the mind long after it was over.

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If you missed it, not to worry, it was recorded and will probably wind up on the internet at some point. In the meantime, you can check out this pretty good recording of the same performance done at MoMA P.S.1, and this excellent little film by Anita Pace, which may (I am not sure) be the original 1989 version.

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Sadly, I can’t rave as much about Kim and Jutta’s performance, as much as I would like to. As a child of the 80s/90s alternative scenes, I still get chills when I’m around Ms. Gordon, a certified goddess from back in the day, when people were still admired for doing intelligent things. She and Ms. Koether strapped on some instruments (guitar for Kim, keyboard for Jutta), played selections from Kelley’s 1996 Poetics CD collection, and read excerpts of an interview Kelley did with Gordon when she was starting to get famous with Sonic Youth. Gordon read Kelley’s part while Koether read Gordon’s. Each excerpt was concluded with a dramatic reading of the following unknown text received from Kelley by fax in 1993:

Look at that curve! Study the bony brow, how it angles down sharply into the piercing eye, the sideward glance, the one that says “Fuck You.” The chin is a rock shelf….

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Listening to the content of the interview was amusing and informative, but it went on for too long and after a while, it felt a little random and pointless. There was a climactic noise moment where the two women walked around the stage, Koether donning a glittery gold shawl while Gordon rubbed her guitar against the hedges behind her. Things became fairly comedic at this point, veering into SNL parody territory. Still, it was Kim and Jutta, paying tribute to Mike—you can’t complain too much about that.

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