Andy Kaufman was one of those mercurial types that we commonly refer to as a ‘genius’. This is owing to his ability to realise, beyond human experience, a new way to practice his craft. For Andy it was performance. Comedy, or its absence, is what he was engaged with. Practiced contumaciousness would be a more prone title, since his act was meant to travesty comedic assumptions. And since most people are familiar with his legendary acts there is no need to untangle the knotted routines that made him famous (Intergender wrestling, Tony Clifton, readings of the Great Gatsby, etc.). But what should be done, and what Maccarone Gallery in New York has attempted to do, is to give his work an anthropological basis in the ecclesia of performance. On Creating Reality by Andy Kaufman, on view at Maccarone Gallery through 16 February, is an attempt at just this. The artifacts that helped shape his singular persona are displayed as an indication that there is more than borderline psychosis involved in his difficult fabrications.
Organised by artist Jonathan Berger in collaboration with Andy’s estate, Bob Zmuda, and his friends and family, the exhibition is comprised of objects from Andy’s life and work (which are often difficult to isolate into two distinct spheres). Additionally, there is a revolving cast of the people from Andy’s personal life on hand during every day of the exhibition; they are there to engage the visitors, acting like tour guides through a mini-museum. The purpose of this, according to Berger, was to have the exhibit resemble a variety show – frequently a favourite format for Andy – with different hosts each day. The selection of objects in the show range from peculiar to the fabled: stage notes, hate mail, the Intergender Wrestling Champion belt, character outfits, etc. All of the ephemera in the exhibition are on rectangular tables under glass, lending to the forensic anthropological feel of the show, with the cast of Andy’s associates being like the archaeologists who explain the artifacts and their meaning.
By virtue of the fact that Andy’s possessions are presented in this manner effectively fetishises his life and legacy. This seems fitting though. After all, his fixation on the grand doyen of youth (Elvis Presley) precipitated his aspirations. The objects in On Creating Reality exemplify this obsession with, as mentioned earlier, transcending human experience. Andy wanted to develop a new way of entertaining based on mystery, craft, excellence, and the liminal passage from discomfort to enjoyment. This could have been influenced by his participation in transcendental meditation, or perhaps his interaction with characters like Elvis, Howdy Doody, and professional wrestlers. Whatever his influences were, he has certainly been transformed into a divine prophet of performance with this show, and for good reason: Andy has and still does enable his fans and critics to question concepts of entertainment, humour, and the Avant-garde in general.
On Creating Reality by Andy Kaufman 12 January until 23 February, Maccarone Gallery, 630 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10014. www.maccarone.net
1. Promotional card for On Creating Reality, by Andy Kaufman, 1984,(front). Courtesy: Maccarone NY
2. Promotional card for On Creating Reality, by Andy Kaufman, 1984, (back). Courtesy: Maccarone NY
3. Andy Kaufman’s Transcendental Meditation Materials 1968 – 1984. Courtesy: Maccarone NY
4. Photo of Stacy R Pina sent with previous card, 1980. Courtesy: Maccarone NY