June 20, 2013  |  Artists, Events & Programs
Living History: Xaviera Simmons and Archive as Impetus
An Archive as Impetus performance in MoMA's Agnes Gund Garden Lobby. Photograph courtesy of Xaviera Simmons

An Archive as Impetus performance in MoMA’s Agnes Gund Garden Lobby. Photograph courtesy of Xaviera Simmons

What do women artists want?

This question is announced through a microphone, repeated—carrying out into MoMA’s Garden Lobby and on to the second-floor Marron Atrium as visitors stop, turn, and listen. Performers, dressed in red coveralls, read this question and a subsequent list of demands, holding placard/protest images in their hands. The images range from a poster by the Guerrilla Girls to an image of a pencil eraser that states simply, “Erase Sexism at MoMA.” This is one of many provocative scenes MoMA visitors might encounter in the Garden Lobby this month at MoMA.

Guerrilla Girls. <i>Dearest Art Collector.</i> 1986. Offset lithograph on paper. © 1986 Guerrilla Girls

Guerrilla Girls. Dearest Art Collector. 1986. Offset lithograph on paper. © 1986 Guerrilla Girls

This question, like many others in Xaviera Simmons‘s performance series, are not necessarily new. Rather, they build a bridge between MoMA’s past political engagements and our present. Questions like this nod to the Art Workers Coalition’s actions in 1969, the Guerrilla Girls actions of the 1980s and 1990s, Yayoi Kusama’s 1969 Sculpture Garden intervention Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead, and the work of other artists and activists fighting for representation and respect throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Archive as Impetus gives a new voice to many past actions like these, inviting visitors to reconsider the questions they raised in in the context of our current cultural climate. What questions are we still answering?

Over the course of the past eight months, artist Xaviera Simmons has been working with us in the Department of Education to develop a series of in-gallery performances related to MoMA Library and Archive materials. Simmons spent months mining exhibition catalogues and archival holdings in search of MoMA’s political engagement since its inception in 1929. She discovered materials documenting museum interventions by Art Workers Coalition and, more recently, Occupy Museums, as well as collection works with political themes, like Diego Rivera’s 1931 MoMA-commissioned mural Agrarian Leader Zapata and Ralph Boreland’s 2004 Suited for Subversion.

Diego Rivera. <i>Agrarian Leader Zapata.</i> 1931. Fresco, 7' 9 3/4" x 6' 2" (238.1 x 188 cm). The Museum of Modern Art. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund

Diego Rivera. Agrarian Leader Zapata. 1931. Fresco, 7′ 9 3/4″ x 6′ 2″ (238.1 x 188 cm). The Museum of Modern Art. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund

Simmons explains, “I wanted to examine the breadth and scope of political action and activities through the museum’s archives and collections. How have everyday politics been engaged in the museum, in relationship to the museum and caused by the museum. I wanted to see how the museum has presented, collected or instigated these movements and events. Political actions are ephemeral and performance is ephemeral. The construction of these notions are what have driven me to the construction of the performance work Archive as Impetus.”

You can catch Xaviera Simmons and her guest performers for a few more actions this month in the Garden Lobby, the Sculpture Garden, and perhaps even some other unexpected locations! For more information, you can check out our Tumblr. Programs are free with museum admission.

Upcoming Performances

Friday, June 21, 4:00 p.m., Garden Lobby
Monday, June 24, 11:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. on the hour, Garden Lobby
Thursday, June 27, 3:00 and 4:00 p.m., Sculpture Garden
Friday, June 28, 4:00 p.m., Garden Lobby