“An embarrassment of riches or just embarrassing?” by Sheridan Brown

Life size cut outs made by Eleanor Antin for the performance at The Hammer

The only person I know who can turn back time is Cher. -Anonymous

Sunday I attended a sold out performance of Eleanor Antin’s   re-creation of a 70’s performance of “Before the Revolution”.  This was the last of the 10 day cycle of performance pieces presented by LaXart and The Getty Research Institute celebrating Los Angeles  performance artists between 1945 and 1980.

The main radical thread of Antin’s play is that an African-American ballerina longs to perform the lead in the Ballet Russe’s Swan Lake.  In  the 1970’s–not a chance. Today? Obama is the President.  An American, David Hallberg, dances with Ballet Russe. Watching the performance, the structure and language rang true but the concept was so much a part of another time.

Does the reinvention of these past performances teach us through art anything about where we as a people have been? Do  performances out of the past  trivialize themselves?

Both of these things are possible, and even likely, given the circumstances of uncritical acceptance that currently prevail.

We are in a nostalgia boom.

Nostalgia, that longing for a past that was somehow better, deeper and more meaningful is a hot ticket. Certainly Americans  are choosing to feel  good while facing hard questions, favoring films this past  year like The Artist and Hugo amid the economic perils at hand.

But remember that angst-ridden Existentialism was born in France.  Disneyland and its iconic Main Street are so  upbeat which is an optimistic part of the American character.

The performances that I saw last week at The Hammer, The Rose Bowl and The Standard Hollywood garage were entertaining 2012 re-imaginings by artists who were present at the revolution of the late 60’s and 70’s  and who now live in a nostalgic America. (ed. These performances, in addition to others, are properly known in the aggregate as the Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival.) Much of the audience were born after 1980. (Where is their revolution? Why not present this instead of retreads?)

I  watched these performances like I watch Mad Men.

I can fantasize about another time when there was a moment of idealism.  But along with the  shiny Mid-Century dream exists a darker narrative. We see  Don Draper being  set up for a fall  (watch the opening credits) but also, one hopes, redemption.

That’s  another thing about  Americans–we love having it both ways.

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