How Performa's Guests Destroyed the Benefit—on Purpose

The nonprofit arts organization once again invited attendees to get hands on—by throwing dishes and wielding hammers—at its fund-raiser.

By Michele Laufik November 7, 2014, 7:30 AM EST

Photo: Cornelia Stiles/BizBash

Performa's Paradiso: A Tribute to the Renaissance
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Tin may be the traditional gift for a 10th anniversary. But Performa is anything but traditional. Instead, the nonprofit arts organization celebrated the milestone mark with rubber chickens and backless-chaps-clad attendants.

Art historian and curator Roselee Goldberg, who founded Performa in 2004, oversaw the Renaissance-theme fall fete, along with producing director Esa Nickle and artist Zach Rockhill. More than 300 guests, including actress China Chow, chef Mario Batali, and performance artist Marina Abramović, gathered, some dressed in their interpretation of 21st-century feudal garb, to support the organization. The evening previewed the Performa 15 biennial, which will take place in November 2015 and is dedicated to contemporary artists who are inspired by the historic cultural movement.

Featuring an avant-garde Medieval Times vibe, the biennial fund-raiser titled “Paradiso: A Tribute to the Renaissance” was held Tuesday at the ornate Weylin B. Seymour’s Williamsburgh Savings Bank in Brooklyn, and showcased “Fecunditas,” a fully immersive food performance by artist Jennifer Rubell.

Following cocktail hour, guests proceeded to the grand dining space, which was lined with rows of long communal tables constructed of white tabletops and simple sawhorses. The evening started with Rubell's “Death of the Rubber Chicken"—rubber chickens suspended above deviled eggs; guests were instructed to smack the paprika-filled plastic poultry to season the hors d'oeuvres.

Produced by Bite, the three-course meal included rustic fare, such as suckling pig, roasted squash, and root veggies to play off the Renaissance theme. During the main course, a brigade of chaps-wearing men marched into the space holding stalks of Brussels sprouts, inviting guests to slice the veggie onto their plates. For dessert, Rubell, along with founder of Vosges Haut-Chocolat Katrina Markoff urged attendees to bash the banquet tables with hammers to uncover sweet treasures, like cotton candy, chocolates, and cookies, that were hidden inside. The concept was similar to her 2009 Performa commission, which involved guests attacking chocolate Jeff Koons bunnies with hammers.

“The performance was a fertility ritual, celebrating the fertility of the creative act, instead of the fertility of childbearing,” Rubell explained. “It had all the components of that fertility: humility, destruction, courage, engagement, poetry.”

Co-hosted by W magazine editor in chief Stefano Tonchi, artist Francesco Vezzoli, and actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg, the event honored 13 “Renaissance Women of Performa,” a group of renowned artists, philanthropists, and visionaries that included art historian Maria Baibakova, Melva Bucksbaum, founding patron of Performa Toby Devan Lewis, Wendy Fisher, Shelley Fox Aarons, documentary filmmaker Maja Hoffman, Joan Jonas, Pamela Joyner, Wangechi Mutu, Shirin Neshat, choreographer Yvonne Rainer, Cindy Sherman, and filmmaker Laurie Simmons.

An after-party featured DJ sets by Arp and Devonté Hynes and musical performances by Raphaelle Condo and Empress Of.

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