Reading

Rush: Ritualized Assimilation, Beer Pong, and a Monsieur Zohore Performance at NADA

Previous Story
Article Image

BmoreArt’s Picks: December 7-13

Next Story
Article Image

Amber Robles-Gordon’s Geographies of Care

The December Miami sun beamed and the palm trees sashayed, a fine 80 degrees at Ice Palace Studios, host for the highly anticipated New Art Dealer’s Association (NADA) 2021 art fair. This small and highly selective art fair is the favorite of serious international collectors who want to invest in artists before they exhibit in the Whitney Biennial, rather than after. It’s a fair where galleries are said to regularly sell out on the first day, and also a place for curators and “artists’ artists” to make profound discoveries.

On the afternoon of Thursday, December 2, arts patrons wandered through the fair’s dense warren of gallery booths, masked and taking selfies with the art, while others lolled comfortably outside drinking espresso and Aperol Spritzes on big white hammocks. You would expect this art paradise to smell like Comme de Garcons Green or Santal No. 6, but today the scent is decidedly different. Is that a whiff of Axe body spray, the Febreeze of human essence? The distinct odor of cheap yellow beer adds an earthy note of fraternity-bro terroir.

 

de Boer gallery booth at NADA 2021 featuring paintings by Monsieur Zohore
Monsieur Zohore, Zero To Hero, 2021, c/o De Boer Gallery
Monsieur Zohore, MZ.22 Rush, 2021, NADA Miami 2021, c/o de boer gallery

A group of eight young white men show up, all handsome in a Southern kind of a way, all wearing togas. Their procession weaves through the crowd, causing a gentle stir. Like Greek pallbearers, they carry a long white table, complete with Corinthian columns for legs, through the fair and then into the garden, where they begin setting up red plastic cups. I found out later that the table is eight feet long, 24 inches wide, and 27.5 inches tall, regulation-size for a Beirut tournament, a college pastime and competition widely known as Beer Pong.

This is aberrant art fair behavior, which means it must be art. Miami club music swells across the garden, and random arts patrons, recruited earlier by the group of men inside the fair, line up to play America’s favorite drinking game with the boys in togas.

 

Monsiuer Zohore, MZ.22 (Rush), Performance, Nada Miami 2021, Courtesy of the artist and de boer gallery, Los Angeles, CA, photo Harry Griffin
detail from Greece Lightening, 2021

Welcome to MZ.22 (Rush), a performance created by Monsieur Zohore, a recent MICA MFA graduate and friend of BmoreArt. It turns out that the eight young men are hired models, selected by the artist with the help of local Miami event agent Beth Accardi and sourced through de boer gallery, the LA-based space representing Zohore’s work at NADA this year. The gallery, run by David DeBoer, mounted a sold-out booth of Zohore’s signature paper towel paintings, teeming with bold liquid color and appropriated historical and pop-cultural references, but the performance was an integral part of their display.

“I reached out to a casting agent and said I was looking for models to play very white, very American, very bro-ish but loveable college-age guys, kind of like puppies,” Zohore says by phone before flying back from Miami. “I was expecting models that I would have to train, but when these boys showed up, they were already exactly in character as themselves. None of them knew each other before the performance, but they all became friends that day, like a real fraternity. We just added beer and togas. It was beautiful.”

 

Monsiuer Zohore, MZ.22 (Rush), Performance, Nada Miami 2021, Courtesy of the artist and de boer gallery, Los Angeles, CA, photo Harry Griffin

Zohore says this particular body of work has been in process for about three years, and the performance was conceived as an essential part of the series from the start. “I don’t think the paintings should exist by themselves,” he says. “They’re designed to function in context with performance and action.” He explained that de boer gallery provides historical dialogue and supplementary materials for the collectors and institutions who buy the work so that they can properly activate it.

Inside the fair, Zohore’s works reference ancient Greece and hetero-normative American college Greek Life. The largest work, Greece Lightning, 2020, marries images of a youthful John Travolta with Raphael’s School of Athens, 1509-11. All of the large and mid-sized works in the series reference fraternity culture, including images from the film Animal House (1978), political and popular celebrities, and Greek pottery and statues, in order to explore “the psychosexual conundrum that lies at the intersection of academia and entertainment.” Painterly with drips of bold color and bleach, Zohore’s paintings manage to be both graceful and absurd, using paper towels as a spongy textured branded surface for poured paint as well as a material reference for late capitalist consumerism and waste.

“There’s always a performance happening, whether you’re looking at a painting or throwing a ping pong ball,” the artist laughs. For Zohore, the combination of theatrical participatory performance with objects has long been essential, with disparate media working in tandem. In Rush, Zohore’s performance and painting explore “the lascivious practices inherited from ancient Greek academic culture and pokes at ritual assimilation glamorized through popular Hollywood characters.”

 

Zohore says that, after they changed into the togas, the eight young men were instructed to wander the art fair as a group, interacting with people in a jovial manner, flirting and horsing around in a non-threatening way, with the goal of signing people up to play in the beer pong competition. “The beauty of the performance is that they all had an amazing time because they were all so naturally in their element,” Zohore says. “The boys were able to be so natural, and anyone who wanted to participate could do so without breaking the fourth wall.” The actors were instructed not to interfere with any business going on at the fair, to keep consent at the center of each interaction, but to enjoy themselves socializing, and clearly they did.

After an hour of circulating the fair, they returned to the gallery booth to pick up the table, forming a procession as they carried it out to the garden. For the artist, having the beer pong table fabricated at regulation size, as well as finding the right columns and marbling on the surface, was a way to bridge the space between paintings and performance and create a sense that two disparate worlds were colliding: “I wanted to make a fictional ancient Greek beer pong table, a specific link between ancient Greek philosophy and modern fraternity culture, to show that they have more in common than one would think: a bunch of privileged white men drinking and holding forth, a Dionysian ritual.”

The game was boisterous and joyful and boozy, the way a fraternity party can be at best, with the audience participating and also observing. For Zohore, it was important that the audience be critical of the performance and its underlying culture, while also accepting complicity. “We are all participants in full late-capitalism art-market insanity, so we need to really be critical of ourselves,” Zohore says. “Most of us come to fairs to do the same things, but these kind of guys are typically not invited.”

Zohore says that he couldn’t have asked for better actors and audience, or Miami weather, and is filled with gratitude and enthusiasm after the performance. “The art fair is such an organized space of chaos, so it was wonderful to intentionally add more chaos to it, and see the beauty unfold under those palm trees. Eleanor Antin, eat your heart out.”

 

Monsiuer Zohore, MZ.22 (Rush), Performance, Nada Miami 2021, Courtesy of the artist and de boer gallery, Los Angeles, CA, photo Harry Griffin
Monsiuer Zohore, MZ.22 (Rush), Performance, Nada Miami 2021, Courtesy of the artist and de boer gallery, Los Angeles, CA, photo Harry Griffin
Monsieur Zohore, BoysWillBeBoys, 2021, deboer gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Monsiuer Zohore, MZ.22 (Rush), Performance, Nada Miami 2021, Courtesy of the artist and de boer gallery, Los Angeles, CA, photo Harry Griffin
Monsiuer Zohore, MZ.22 (Rush), Performance, Nada Miami 2021, Courtesy of the artist and de boer gallery, Los Angeles, CA, photo Harry Griffin
Monsiuer Zohore, MZ.22 (Rush), Performance, Nada Miami 2021, Courtesy of the artist and de boer gallery, Los Angeles, CA, photo Harry Griffin
Monsieur Zohore, Greece Lightning, 2020, 60x120in, deboer gallery
Monsiuer Zohore, MZ.22 (Rush), Performance, Nada Miami 2021, Courtesy of the artist and de boer gallery, Los Angeles, CA, photo Harry Griffin
Monsiuer Zohore, MZ.22 (Rush), Performance, Nada Miami 2021, Courtesy of the artist and de boer gallery, Los Angeles, CA, photo Harry Griffin
Monsiuer Zohore, MZ.22 (Rush), Performance, Nada Miami 2021, Courtesy of the artist and de boer gallery, Los Angeles, CA, photo Harry Griffin
Monsiuer Zohore, MZ.22 (Rush), Performance, Nada Miami 2021, Courtesy of the artist and de boer gallery, Los Angeles, CA, photo Harry Griffin

More info: Monsieur Zohore is an Ivorian-American artist based in Richmond, VA and New York, NY. His practice is invested in widespread consumption and digestion of cultural norms by conflating quotidian domestic labor with art production. Through performance, sculpture, installation, and theater, his methods explore queer histories alongside his own Ivorian-American heritage through a multi-faceted lens of humor, economics, art history, and labor. Zohore has had solo and two-person exhibitions in 2021 at de boer, Los Angeles (forthcoming), Springsteen, Baltimore, MD, and Jack Barret Gallery, New York, NY. Recent group shows include; de boer, Los Angeles; New Release Gallery, New York, NY; One Trick Pony, Los Angeles; The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; Galleria Bianconi, Milan, Italy; and Spurs Beijing, China (forthcoming). Zohore is a 2021 Socrates Sculpture Park Fellow, Long Island City, NY.

de boer is a contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles founded by David De Boer in 2020. de boer represents a diverse roster of multi-generational artists. de boer places an emphasis on artists focused on radical politics with a rigorously technical and conceptual studio practice. The gallery hosts solo and group exhibitions, many of which are accompanied by exhibition catalogues published by the gallery. In 2021, the gallery expanded to add additional galleries at its location at 3311 E. Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA.

New Art Dealers Alliance was founded in 2002, New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) is a not-for-profit 501c6 collective of professionals working with contemporary art. Our mission is to create an open flow of information, support, and collaboration within our field and to develop a stronger sense of community among our constituency. We believe that the adversarial approach to exhibiting and selling art has run its course. We believe that change can be achieved through fostering constructive thought and dialogue between various points in the art industry from large galleries to small spaces, non-profit and commercial alike. Through support and encouragement, we facilitate strong and meaningful relationships between our members working with new contemporary and emerging art; while enhancing the public’s interaction with contemporary art.

 

Photos by Harry Griffin, courtesy of de boer gallery

 

Related Stories
Text and Found Object in exhibitions by Kei Ito and R.L. Tillman

While Ito leans on a more personal narrative to probe the continued legacy of violence, Tillman dissects printmaking history, wartime advertisements and reminiscence in social media today.

On museum unions, getting to know a city by walking, and designed structures

For Mangus, an artist, writer, and museum guard, space for reflection is essential to a strong end result.

Cavanaugh has successfully steered MAP home to Saratoga Street and built an organization that can be sustainable for the future

These past ten years at MAP may seem to be a blur of exhibits, events, and art walks, but it’s important to realize that none of it would have happened without the determination of one devoted arts administrator.

A new exhibit of recent Baker awardees features work by Laura Amussen, David Page, Ernest Shaw Jr., Susan Waters-Eller, and Pamela Woolford

Baltimore, Addressed features five recent Baker awardees who respond to the past, present, and imagined future of the city and is curated by Brittany Luberda, BMA Anne Stone Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts