Impressions of: Miguel Gutierrez’s "Age & Beauty Part 1:Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note or &:-/"
At the Whitney Biennial
Created and performed by Miguel Gutierrez in collaboration with Mickey Mahar
Additional dance material created by Christoffer Schieche and Roman Van Houtven
Music by Jerry Goldsmith, Chuckie and Silvio Ecomo, and Miguel Gutierrez
Text and Set Design by Miguel Gutierrez
Costume creations by Dusty Childers
Lighting by Lenore Doxsee
Five times a decade, the Whitney Biennial presents a sweeping survey of the contemporary art scene. While not designed to answer the question “what is contemporary art” (if that is even a question that can be asked, much less answered), it offers intriguing insight into the depth and breadth of working artists. This show, an intersection of non-New York curators Stuart Comer, Anthony Elms, and Michelle Grabner, underscores the lively miscellany of the current art landscape. Miguel Gutierrez, sassy 2010 choreographic Guggenheim fellow, offers “Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note” in collaboration with the doe-like Mickey Mahar. “&:-/,” the piece's other title, is emblazoned in shocking pink across the far white wall of the Anne & Joel Ehrenkranz Gallery. Gutierrez, sporting a ladies' one-piece swimsuit in a Hawaiian motif, and Maher, in dingy gym shorts and a cerise-toned sweatband, investigate the performative aspects of age and beauty. As we amble in to take our seats, Gutierrez, who has no outwardly distinction between his real and actorly self, passes out bottles of nail polish to generate bonhomie. Many enthusiastically paint their nails as Gutierrez goes through the 21st-century ritual of requesting that cell phones be silenced. The vibe is casual and playful.
Pounding music with a booty-shaking beat begins, and Gutierrez and Mahar vamp through a unison phrase bedazzled with stripper back arches, modelesque strutting, and elaborate voguing. Through pouted lips, they punctuate these zippy, flamboyant postures with indecipherable vocalizations. It’s satire with a hair flip. This lurid fun swings to a close as Gutierrez and Mahar hold hands, their faces incrementally inching toward each other. They smooch and resume their earlier shenanigans. The tone, though, has changed; it’s reflexive and automated, an ersatz sexiness. Mindlessly, they cycle through punchy gestures and booty tooches.
Startling shrieks splinter their robotic unity. Mahar climbs the walls, and then Gutierrez thrashes to the floor. Toying with words, they mock the pretension of dance by enunciating the phrase “we are the dancers” with dancers pronounced like doncers. The ending sees Gutierrez crooning into a white microphone, the volume jacked up to a deafening level, as Mahar listlessly rolls on the floor. We only know the show is over because Gutierrez tells us.
At first glance, Gutierrez and Mahar are an odd coupling. Gutierrez, with his pouf of bronze-tinted hair and fleshy virility, eclipses Mahar, all knobby knees and spectral paleness. In the opening phrases, Mahar appears like a sullen teen forced to indulge in an adult's cheesy idea of fun. But when he flings himself heedlessly in a physical rebuttal of commoditized sexuality (because it seems when Gutierrez talks about age and beauty, that's really what he is talking about), he is ethereal, a purer form of humanity who has transcended the gristle and bone of the body.
“Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note or &:-/,” while blocky in its pacing and littered with obvious music cues, is hugely entertaining. Winking and vigorous, it doesn’t feel like much of a suicide note. Even the ending, when Gutierrez suffocates us with sound, doesn’t seem desperate or angry; it acts more like a life-affirming power trip. Gutierrez has indicated that this is the first of a three- or four-part work, so we will have to wait and see how this boisterous romp fits in with what comes next.