Since opening in September last year, the Broad has become a must-go excursion for the L.A. cognoscenti, with a collection stuffed with big names in highly Instagrammable modern art: Basquiat, Ruscha, Haring, Hirst, Murakami. This past Saturday, the Broad debuted its Nonobject(ive): Summer Happenings series with an array of multimedia talent including indie-pop hero Perfume Genius, alt-electronic act Lotic, performance artist Narcissister and the work of conceptual portrait artist Cindy Sherman.
Taking place on the final weekend of LGBT Pride Month, the programming was appropriately but unofficially queer-centric. Sherman’s photography, with subjects like creepy clowns and corpses buried alive, coupled with the bizarre spectacle of Mutant Salon’s martian drag queen beauty parlor and Lotic’s dystopian beats, added elements of the macabre and surreal to the evening's genderqueer themes.
First on stage was Narcissister, whose work — like 2014’s “Burka Barbie” — features her dressed in a doll mask, lampooning consumerism and gender roles through hypnagogic performances. After being sufficiently jarred by Narcissister’s act and Cindy Sherman’s photographs, I wandered to the plaza courtyard, a patch of grass tucked between the museum and its fancypants restaurant, Otium.
Here, the centerpiece of the evening’s proceedings was a set from Perfume Genius, the stage moniker of Seattle's Mike Hadreas, who ascended to indie-darling status with the release of the excellent Too Bright in 2014. Perfume Genius’ aesthetic fits somewhere between Antony and the Johnsons, Fun., FKA Twigs and Arcade Fire. Lipsticked and writhing in an all-white get-up, Hadreas worked through tunes that read like vignettes from his diary. They bear an intimacy that pulls you close, with a synth-wrought atmosphere courtesy of Adrian Utley, producer of Too Bright and a member of trip-hop deities Portishead.
Hadreas’ snake-like dance moves have a touch of Freddie Mercury to them, and he’s become a queer icon who transcends subcultures with a touching sense of vulnerability. His three-piece set-up was more spartan than usual, which had the effect of making the crowd tune in to his voice even further, switching the show's energy from dance-floor grooving to close analysis of Hadreas’ lyrics.
One unfortunate aspect of the highbrow artsy types who populate these events is that they’re often too rigid and self-conscious to dance in public. So when Perfume Genius closed with “Queen,” a grandiose, queer anthem of Arcade Fire-like proportions, it roused the sleepy crowd from total stillness to ... not dancing, exactly, but more of a gentle swaying. As Hadreas sashayed offstage, the crowd erupted into raucous applause that was the highlight of the whole evening. The seven-note piano refrain from the verse of “Queen” has been stuck in my head ever since.
It's hard to explain exactly what was going on in the Oculus Room during the Mutant Salon. There was lots of skin and lots of glitter. The most memorable component was a completely shaved man wearing nothing but stiletto heels, a set of horns, a massive golden nose ring and purple body paint, who strutting around offering free makeovers and introducing a microphone to interesting parts of his body.
Lotic’s performance was hotly anticipated by those in the dance music community, but with a heavily truncated set time and an emptying courtyard, his music failed to connect. His productions, released on NYC electronic tastemaker label Tri Angle (Rabit, Evian Christ, The Haxan Cloak, How to Dress Well), are among the most celebrated in the underground scene in terms of sound design, concept and sheer, evocative luridness, but it wasn’t Lotic’s night as a DJ. Sensing this, he hopped offstage abruptly around 11 p.m. and did not return, instead retiring to the grass to chat with those who had stayed to watch.
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What was most intriguing about the programming for this first Nonobject(ive) event was that the styles of music and art it brought together — chamber pop, experimental electronic music, interactive performance art — seemed disparate at first glance, but shared a strong thematic thread. All of the work on display on Saturday was at once alarming, evocative, queer, surreal and confident in its power. But this multimedia, multi-scene approach is a double-edged sword. An unfortunate side-effect of combining so many disparate, esoteric media and aesthetics is that any person so down the experimental rabbit-hole of one particular medium is likely unfamiliar with the mode of consumption for the others. Rarely is your chin-stroking performance art connoisseur also your techno-loving, booty-shakin’ club kid. But perhaps therein lies the beauty of this whole thing. We’re all here to learn, right?
The Broad’s Summer Happenings series runs monthly all summer long and features an enlivening swath of musical performances. Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, twee-glitch PC Music star Sophie, and the enveloping, atmospheric electronic darkness of The Haxan Cloak will all feature. Tickets for the next installment, on July 30, are available now.