The New Museum, in partnership with the NYU Center for the Humanities and the Sense of Performance Project at Yale University, presented the inaugural New Museum Colloquium from February 16 to 18, 2017. Entitled “The Critical Matter of Performance,” this three-day think tank convened historians and theorists of performance, dance, and visual art, as well as choreographers, theater artists, visual artists, and performers to explore the relationship of criticism to live art through multiple registers—across time, space, bodies, politics, and institutions. Organized by Julia Bryan-Wilson, Tavia Nyong’o, Johanna Burton, and the New Museum’s Department of Education and Public Engagement, the colloquium featured presentations and discussions with keynote presenters including Rizvana Bradley, Tania Bruguera, Malik Gaines, Jack Halberstam, Jenn Joy, Thomas J. Lax, Simone Leigh, and Wu Tsang, with special guest speaker Robert Longo.
The format of the colloquium brought together keynote presenters with a focus group of ten to fifteen emerging scholars and critically engaged performing artists (chosen through an application process administered by the organizers and in consultation with the presenters). Public sessions complemented a number of closed-door discussions. The public sessions included a “long table” conversation with audience and participants, moderated by the organizers; a series of “duets” in which two presenters were asked to consider the same topic from their different professional or disciplinary perspectives and to respond to each other in dialogue with the audience; and an off-site reading with participants from the colloquium.
In a time of political extremes and unthinkable circumstances, it was more imperative than ever to question the relationship between bodies, actions, critical thought, and institutions. Throughout the colloquium, participants considered criticism—in its various forms, formats, and temporalities—as a contingent material of performance culture. To both record and disseminate critical responses born from the colloquium, written reflections from keynote presenters and focus group participants were collected as material for a related publication.