I’ve never used a counter before, and I’m actually kind of excited about it. My job for the next hour is standing by the front doors and counting everyone who comes in, while my colleague Christy, who is much better dressed than I am—not to mention taller—politely makes sure no one gets in who’s not on the list.
1, 2, 3, 4. A woman comes in wearing a bright orange jacket and glasses with bright green frames. 29, 30, 31. An ICA board member comes in wearing an expensive suit with a silver lizard on his lapel. An artist in the video show comes in wearing a lavender dress. A woman comes in carrying a bag I’m afraid to handle—it looks so expensive—but I stash it for her with William behind the desk. 83, 84. A man comes in wearing a button that says “Post Queer.” I think I know what that means, but then I think again and realize I have no idea.
This is the opening of two ICA shows,Queer Voice and Video Art: Replay, Part 3: Ludicrous! It’s rather amazing, counting all these people streaming in to our usually quiet museum. In the lobby they gather around Ingrid, who curated Queer Voice, and she gives them some things to think about before leading them through the doorway into the dark space echoing with exclamations, utterances, songs and murmurs—nine artists speaking at once, though the show is designed so you can listen to them one at a time. Some of them, like Jack Smith and Andy Warhol, speak from beyond the grave, Andy into a silver painted cube—a sort of miniaturized Silver Factory—and Smith down from a height onto a lovely fainting couch on which the listener (I almost wrote viewer) is invited to lie.
On one wall, Laurie Anderson’s androgynous form sings “O Superman.” On another, John Kelly’s passionate diva sings in a glorious counter tenor. In the next room, you can rest on metal-framed beds and follow Ryan Trecartin’s voice up and down a hysterical register under a musical haze.
Queer Voice, which is not exactly a typical art exhibition (there’s almost nothing on the walls, the idea is to listen) is typical in this way: there are a lot of things in a room and you can decide which one to pay attention to. Upstairs in Ludicrous! however, there’s just one video playing at a time. Today it’s Mary Reid Kelley, painted white with black outlines like a two-dimensional drawing, situated in a white room at a white table with a white tea cup, reciting a long rhyming story hypnotically. What’s fun about this show is that the video changes every week, so that it unfolds over time. You need to come back again and again to really understand the curator’s vision, how the whole thing fits together. Which is how life is, too.
Back at my post, I realize I’ve seen this tall man in the blue shirt before. He must have gone out for a cigarette and come back in, so I don’t count him. Someone has a baby in a carrier. Someone else (William shows me) is wearing a wig. Maybe lots of people are wearing wigs—I like that idea!—but I can’t tell. A man comes in and says he just saw two rainbows. That has to be a sign of something.
People drink wine, exchange kisses, gossip and preen and chat. Their voices spiral up toward the second floor, swirling and echoing. 206, 207. Since I’m thinking about queer voices, I can’t help starting to think that all the voices sound queer—certainly the crazy cacophony of them at this opening! At the dinner afterward, ICA’s director, Claudia Gould, will say how the queerest voice is maybe one’s own.
In her gallery notes for Ludicrous! Jenelle wrote: “Many of the videos immerse audiences in magnificently bizarre worlds.” I look around the lobby at the happy crowd in their hats and high heels and bright scarves and golden purses drinking sangria, and I think that seems just about right.