Michael Alan’s Living Installation
Life, Art, and New York City. Mass Appeal spends time with Staten Island artist Michael Alan.
After the success of the first Living Installation, Alan began to organize these performance gatherings on a regular basis. Kenny Scharf’s Cosmic Cavern, The Whitney, The New Museum and Gasser Grunert were among the many venues that hosted the Living Installation.
Alan often cites New York’s DIY scene during the ’60s as the blueprint for the Living Installation. His goal is to create a multifaceted, inclusive environment where there is no barrier between the artist, model and spectator, and where there is more than one art medium at play. Alan incorporates music, film, photography and his own art into the spectacle. “His performances are out there,” Scharf says. “He’s a weirdo and I just like his extreme. He’s taking it. He’s living it. That’s what his obsession is. I believe if you’re a real artist, then that’s the way you make it. You’re obsessed.”
The Living Installation that Michael has been working towards takes place at the Pandemic Gallery in Brooklyn on a temperate Saturday night. From the door, you can hear the clatter of a cymbal, the thud of the bass and a Halloween screech echo through the sound system. Alan has collaborated with Kenny Scharf, Tommy Ramone, Meredith Monk, Ariel Pink and others, to create a seven-hour soundtrack for the performance. The music switches from ’90s hip hop to punk rock back to the obscure instrumentals.
A varied crowd mills from the open bar to the performance space. A group of young guys in North Face windbreakers, beanies and jeans huddle together signing graffiti tag books and chasing beers. They seem unfazed by the main spectacle.
The rest of the crowd is facing the performance piece in varying degrees of repose and concentration. Some text, some watch, others are sketching the human sculpture.
In the center, nine bodies covered only by dripping and dried white paint gesture, shift, and twist to the changing music. Some of the bodies are adorned with masks, papered talons and crumpled sculpture pieces. A papier-mâché duck, a framed photograph and a flag of rags are among the few props. Everything is flecked with white paint. On the wall behind the spectacle, large prints of Alan’s work hang side by side. One reads a list of half sentences with the words ‘positive,’ ‘give,’ and ‘actions’ highlighted.
Michael Alan is in high spirits. He divides his time between the patrons and rearranging the sculpture of bodies. He seems pleased with the turn out and the show. “I want to create a visual language through my art,” he explains. “A long dialogue for people not just for me. Through the music, the art and the Living Installation, I want them to be able to skip chapter two and read chapter ten and still get it. When you see a Keith Haring or a Basquiat you know. In five years, I want to still be evolving.”
The Living Installation is a strange but fascinating experience. Turn away for a moment and the spectacle has completely changed – the models have adjusted, the music has lifted and the atmosphere has transformed. It forces you to remain present. “The Installation is conceived from my work,” says Alan. “It’s a collaboration with the performers but there would be no Installation if there were no drawings. I put one form on top of another form, that’s how this Living Installation came to be.”
The feeling in the gallery is reminiscent of Alan’s studio, his drawings, and that sense of mischievous capriciousness that inhabited the room. Watching the performance – the music, the models, the art – all come together, I find myself wondering… is this what happens when you close the door and the drawings come down to play?
Photos: Joseph Meloy