If you’ve not yet been to the Broad downtown, consider a visit this summer at an installment of the aptly titled Summer Happenings at the Broad. The museum currently features a number of notable exhibits, including Jeff Koons with those picturesque tulips and Michael Jackson and Bubbles; several pieces by Roy Lichtenstein; and of course the focus of last Saturday night, Andy Warhol. It was the Summer Happenings season opener: Warhol’s Icon–an ironically reductive title for a night honoring Nico, the German actress and model famous for being one of Warhol’s superstars and gaining recognition later on for her music career. Performers were scattered across three areas in the museum and all paid tribute to Nico in unique ways, with grandiose displays from Geneva Jacuzzi, Jenny Hval, and others.
The artists that night all had at least one detail in common: identifying as female. In fact, feminist imagery was rampant throughout the night, including from drag queen Vaginal (Cream) Davis and self-identified performance artist Kembra Pfahler. The latter’s message seemed lost among the disorganization of her set, inviting the label of shallow shock jock; however, Davis was powerful and direct, while also maintaining a sharp sense of humor. She was a Black woman speaking truth with a disarmingly pleasant tone as she chastised that night’s audience, the demographics of which skewed wealthy and white. Jokes about the privilege of gentrifiers were the ones that got the most laughs, which, along with a few other red flags, indicated a grave lack of self-awareness among the attendees. (One patron browsing the side exhibits of the museum–a white man, of course–posed for a photo with a piece titled Burning African Village Play Set with Big House and Lynching by Kara Walker.)
The musical side of Nico was channeled through the main performances from Geneva Jacuzzi and Jenny Hval in the outdoor plaza. It was a beautiful night, with plenty of space for folks to enjoy the bar and soft grass while listening to left-field compositions coming from the stage. Glancing at the props accompanying Geneva Jacuzzi, the Flaming Lips were a clear inspiration; she set up two translucent hamster balls on either side of the stage, both with well-placed spirals meant to appear like nipples. Dancers lined the stage manipulating windsocks as tentacles, everyone covered in black and white swirling body paint. The production relied on Geneva Jacuzzi’s music, which itself is alarmingly upbeat, if not also nonsensical at times.
Jenny Hval held a spectacle of her own, inviting to the stage her usual noise accomplice, Håvard Volden, as well as two other women, one manning a second synth while the other played a tuba. Her set list pulled largely from her most recent record, Blood Bitch, with more than a few moments that felt like new material, at least to me. When Hval played at Resident last November she had half this crew, which led to solo skits as Volden kept the beats all night. At the Broad, she took advantage of her larger space. After promising to explain her desire for invisibility, Hval stretched a body-sized stocking over her, struggling to hold the mic with the constant tug of her impromptu body sock. Eventually, all of the women broke out into a coordinated selfie seizure, hopping around in their hoods and bodysuit, with iPhones in hand, collecting what I can only imagine is footage a thousand times more disorienting than Cloverfield. The final gesture of the night was to hand out stickers that read: NOT SUITABLE FOR CAPITALISM. Fans with the title of her 2016 record scrawled on their cheeks were most delighted for the gift.
Though the entire night could have been easily compared to Camera Obscura, the beloved 1985 Nico record, the closest artist sonically that night was Tiny Vipers, who performed near the Warhol collection upstairs. The calm ambience of her set overlaps with Nico’s later work, an intentional touch one presumes, given the setting near Warhol originals and with The Inner Scar, a film by Philippe Garrel starring and scored by Nico, playing on the floor below. Other direct homages to the infamous icon were difficult to parse apart, though Hval did dress in Nico’s most consistent outfit: all black, with a dark wig atop Hval’s own short, blonde hair. I suppose an argument could be made that Pfahler’s hardships and wavering self-confidence reflected Nico’s difficult life, but I couldn’t begin to tell you where the KKK fits into this tribute (when the set began, the three women were wearing smocks with K’s across their chests). In a climactic moment, Pfahler was graphically penetrated with a cross by one of her stagemates; if there had been worthwhile rhetoric leading up to this moment, perhaps it would have come across as profound, but instead I wondered if this was an appropriate display to honor someone who had been raped by an army officer in her youth.
Although the night ended in a fog of confused performance pieces set to music, the Broad still put on a marvelous event. The next Summer Happenings will take place on July 29, with the spotlight on Takashi Murakami, featuring performances from Devendra Banhart, Miho Hatori’s New Optimism, and others. Act fast; the final installment for the year will be in September, which means that there are only a few opportunities left to grab tickets. Check out the rest of the upcoming schedule here.
Words by: Zoë Elaine
Photography: Jason Lindley