A night right out of Warhol

Broad kicks off ‘Hap­pen­ings’ with songs, shocks

Los Angeles Times - - CULTURE MONSTER - cal­en­dar@la­times.com By Steve Ap­ple­ford

Kem­bra Pfahler is in the Broad mu­seum of­fices and li­brary, care­fully smear­ing white paint onto a black cru­ci­fix. She stands in a dark Chi­nese tu­nic, pre­par­ing for an hour of live songs and trans­gres­sive per­for­mance art, clos­ing a night ded­i­cated to the legacy of Andy Warhol and his Teu­tonic su­per­star, singer and fash­ion model Nico.

“I was re­ally in­spired by Nico. I love her mu­sic, I love her de­liv­ery, I love her per­son­al­ity,” says Pfahler, known for bound­ary-shat­ter­ing work with her group the Volup­tuous Hor­ror of Karen Black. She’s still hours away from her con­fronta­tional col­li­sion of rock ’n’ roll, body paint, nu­dity, big hair and reli­gious sym­bols.

“I do per­for­mance un­der the aus­pices of avail­able-ism — mak­ing best use of what’s avail­able, which is our bod­ies and our cos­tumes,” she says.

It’s Satur­day, the first of this year’s “Sum­mer Hap­pen­ings” at the Broad. Cu­ra­tors have gath­ered mu­si­cians and artists who share a link with (or at least ad­mi­ra­tion for) the Warhol tra­di­tion. In its sec­ond year, the se­ries uses live per­for­mance to con­nect au­di­ences with the con­tem­po­rary art col­lec­tion on the mu­seum walls.

Nico, born Christa Paf­fgen in Cologne, Ger­many, en­tered the 1960s Warhol scene at his New York workspace the Fac­tory, where she ap­peared in ex­per­i­men­tal films and sang on the first Vel­vet Un­der­ground al­bum in 1967. She en­joyed a solo ca­reer singing dark but crit­i­cally re­spected songs un­til her death in 1988.

On this Satur­day, live sets by Pfahler and in­ter­sex per­for­mance artist Vagi­nal Davis un­fold in the Ocu­lus Hall, with Jenny Hval on an out­door stage and Tiny Vipers (a.k.a. Jesy Fortino) singing amid a pair of Warhol Camp­bell’s soup can paint­ings, a large Elvis Pres­ley silkscreen and other Pop art in a gallery. A screen­ing of the 1972 ex­per­i­men­tal film “The In­ner Scar” de­liv­ers Nico wan­der­ing a bar­ren land­scape.

The events, strictly lim­ited to ages 21 and older, are spe­cific to the mu­seum, says Ed Patuto, di­rec­tor of au­di­ence en­gage­ment. “There is this back and forth be­tween the per­form­ers and the art that is free-flow­ing,” he says. “We want this to be a dif­fer­ent kind of ex­pe­ri­ence than you would have at a club or at a fes­ti­val.”

Bran­don Sto­suy co-cu­rated the Nico night with Brad­ford Nordeen. “Ide­ally, you wouldn’t see this lineup in any other space, be­cause it wouldn’t make sense any­where else,” Sto­suy says.

The next event, on July 29, will cen­ter on the work of Ja­panese artist Takashi Mu­rakami. Co-cu­rated by Sto­suy and Ryu Taka­hashi, the night will look for links to Mu­rakami’s fu­sion of tra­di­tional Ja­panese cul­ture with frenzied pop cul­ture. Among the per­form­ers will be Cibo Matto’s Miho Ha­tori and Los An­ge­les singer-song­writer Deven­dra Ban­hart. “We were try­ing to find ways to pull from mu­sic that sounds like what Mu­rakami’s work looks like,” Sto­suy says.

As Pfahler is paint­ing her cross, watch­ing is Nao Bus­ta­mante, whose video art in­stal­la­tion in the lobby is swad­dled in col­or­ful knit­ting that she calls “fem­i­nist fiber art on steroids.” Her weep­ing face fills the screen. The im­age echoes 1966 film footage of Nico cry­ing in “Chelsea Girls,” di­rected by Warhol and Paul Morrissey.

Bus­ta­mante calls the night’s artists “in­spired” and cred­its the mu­seum for bold pro­gram­ming: “A space can be dar­ing once or twice, but the Broad has been dar­ing 30 times. It keeps run­ning with it. It’s ex­cit­ing.”

Moments later, Davis sweeps into the room, stand­ing 6-foot-5 in a golden robe, her wig re­moved and bald head shiny with sweat. “Oh, hi, Kem­bra!” she says ex­cit­edly. “I had no idea there would be so many peo­ple!”

Davis lives in Ber­lin but grew up in Los An­ge­les. The Broad per­for­mance is her first here in five years. Warhol twice pho­tographed Davis in the ’80s with a Po­laroid cam­era, once at the old Re­tail Slut cloth­ing store in L.A. and again at a cos­tume party in Man­hat­tan. Davis dressed as pain­ter Frida Kahlo, wear­ing a fake mus­tache and a Cab­bage Patch doll in her hair.

“Andy took a Po­laroid of me. He said, ‘Who are you sup­posed to be?’ ” Davis re­calls with a laugh. “I may not have known his whole canon then, be­cause I was just a child, but I knew that he was a fa­mous artist. In those days, I didn’t re­ally con­sider my­self a per­for­mance artist yet. I was just do­ing what I felt like or­gan­i­cally.”

Davis says she ad­mired Warhol’s gath­er­ings for the way they mixed things up, “so there’s debu­tantes and some­one just re­leased from prison,” she says. “If it’s just all mod­els or ac­tors or rich peo­ple, it’s so bor­ing.”

Also this evening, Hval be­gins a set with “Lorna,” a dreamy track from her al­bum last year. Nico, Hval says, was an in­di­rect but meaningful in­flu­ence. “I don’t sound like her, for sure, but I’ve lis­tened a lot to her al­bums with John Cale. They’re amaz­ing,” says Hval, not­ing “the com­bi­na­tion of acous­tic in­stru­ments and eeri­ness, the drones in the songs . ... It’s a beau­ti­ful place to be as a lis­tener. It’s like be­ing in­side a paint­ing or draw­ing.”

Hval flew her band in from Oslo early to re­hearse new ma­te­rial. She has been part of Warhol-themed nights be­fore, ad­just­ing her usual club shows for the some­times in­tim­i­dat­ing gallery en­vi­ron­ment.

The night’s three hours of live art ends with Pfahler, by now painted yel­low and wear­ing a black fright wig ac­cented by a pink bow. She stands cen­ter stage with two women flank­ing her in iden­ti­cal wigs, one with skin painted green, the other painted red. Each wears a smock with a big “K” sewn to the chest — pre­sum­ably for “Kem­bra,” though stand­ing to­gether they read a more provoca­tive “KKK.”

“They got re­ally mad at me to­day be­cause I didn’t know what I was go­ing to do,” she tells the full room to laughs from the crowd. “But it wasn’t be­cause I was be­ing lazy. It’s be­cause I’m tortured and sick and run­down from work­ing, just like you.”

To a pre-recorded track, the three women sing songs and slowly dis­robe. As she pre­pares to sing “Ghost Boyfriend,” Pfahler says: “When the solo hap­pens, I’ll take my un­der­wear off and I’ll try to stand on my head. I know you’re sick of see­ing that. I’m sorry.”

Soon, Pfahler is nude on­stage ex­cept for yel­low body paint and laced thigh-high boots. She does a hand­stand with her back to the au­di­ence, legs spread, as the two women place the freshly painted white cru­ci­fix on a cer­tain part of her body, once again chal­leng­ing some on­look­ers not to be of­fended.

The per­for­mance is not ex­actly what Nico would do, but Pfahler still draws a con­nec­tion to Warhol, clos­ing an evening that is by turns med­i­ta­tive, per­sonal and un­com­pro­mis­ing.

Priscilla Mars The Broad

JENNY HVAL, an ad­mirer of Nico and Andy Warhol, per­forms at “Sum­mer Hap­pen­ings” at the Broad.

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