In the historic Williamsburgh Savings Bank in Brooklyn on Tuesday night, dozens of striking yellow rubber chickens were strung together over a table of deviled eggs. Muscular male servants in back-less chaps waited on hand and foot for a crowd of art and design world heavy hitters, including Marina Abramovic, Klaus Biesenbach, Carroll Dunham, Rachel Feinstein, China Chow, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Maria Cornejo. They weren’t there for the eye candy — or not just — but for the 10th anniversary of Performa, the arts organization founded by RoseLee Goldberg dedicated to supporting live performance art.
The person responsible for the night’s, er, entertainment was the food artist Jennifer Rubell, daughter of collectors Don and Mera.
“I wanted to deal with the fertility of the creative act as opposed to the pure fertility of childbirth and bearing children,” she said of “Fecunditas,” as the interactive piece was called. It was fitting because the evening was honoring ten women in the art world — Maja Hoffmann, Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons among them.
After an opening act appropriately called “Death of the rubber chicken,” Rubell continued with what she described as an “All-star soup kitchen.” The honorees, cloaked in ceremonial robes by the scantily dressed waitstaff, were tasked with ladling out bowls of soup to their table.
“Everyone served a different soup at the tables, and I had no idea, but I think Jennifer specifically put the borscht for me because she knew I was Russian,” said Maria Baibakova.
Performa’s gala served as a sort of unofficial warm up for next month’s Art Basel Miami Beach, during which Rubell often presents her other food performances. Rodman Primack, director of the Design Miami fair, has been busy preparing. “It’s like throwing a party for 30,000 people,” he said while passing bowls of tomato soup down the line. Guests were later instructed to smash their used bowls into a pit in the center of the room.
The next course left diners to fend for themselves — they were instructed to carve their own pieces of roasted pig and cut pieces of strings of vegetables, like brussels sprouts, suggestively hanging from the waiters’ belts. Luckily for one of the back-row tables, Mario Batali swooped in for carving duties. “I never mind,” said the chef, in his usual orange Crocs, of his sudden inclusion in the performance as he sliced and diced the swine. “I didn’t make [the pig], but I know how to cut it.” Just as guests began to wonder about where dessert was, hammers arrived with instructions to smash the wooden tables where the finale, boxes of Vosges chocolates, were grandly served.