didn’t get whether it was a magic show or not?” said a boy in the
audience after the artist Stuart Sherman performed his “Third Spectacle”
on a street corner in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1975.
Stuart Sherman began presenting small-scale, obsessive and idiosyncratic performances which he called “Spectacles” in the 1970s. Looking as if he was about to play a shell game, he would set up a simple folding table on the streets of New York, in parks or on a theatre stage, then he would arrange and rearrange a constant set of everyday items, always in countless new combinations. With an eye for precision and with earnestness – but not without humour – he followed a predefined script. As in a game of dominoes, his manipulation of one object inevitably led to the animation of the next. The chain of actions and objects in his performances and films appear to follow a strict systematic, even syntactic, pictorial logic without this seeming predictable to the viewer – “a magic show, but magic without tricks” (Noel Carrol, 1978).
Stuart Sherman (1945–2001) was a part of the avant-garde art, theatre and film scene in New York in the 1970s and 80s. For many years, he was close friends with Babette Mangolte, an artist and photographer whose work chronicles the New York art scene at the time. Through the eye of her camera, she still actively contributes to the reception and historization of performances by artists such as Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown and Robert Whitman. In this exhibition, we present numerous photographs featuring Stuart Sherman performing his “Spectacles”. On 10 July, we are also showing Mangolte’s film “The Camera: Je or La Camera: I”, in which Sherman acts one of the roles. The film can be understood as a fundamental reflection on filmmaking and the role of the camera.
Based on the idea of an archive, the exhibition at the Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof focuses on Sherman’s performative works as well as their photographic documentation by Babette Mangolte. It also features his films, almost all of which are part of the collection at the MoMA New York.
Images: Michael Pfisterer