Gallery displays of performance materials walk a line between highlighting and fetishizing, documenting and memorializing, but in a thoughtful new exhibition—the first ever on the acclaimed experimental theater troupe, The Wooster Group—the objects that once appeared onstage, in performance, are compelling in their own right. “It’s a balance between context and aesthetics,” says Carriage Trade gallery curator Peter Scott, “but this is unapologetically an art show.”
How are stage props works of art? Founded in the 1970s, The Wooster Group is a legendary downtown-New York theater outfit, with a revolving cast of actors (Willem Dafoe, Kate Valk, and Steve Buscemi among them) and an interest in surfaces, in artifice. Characters and text are collaged with found media and material props so that the plays feel less about the messages you take away from them and more about the effects they have upon you.
“This is unapologetically an
The props often transcend mere propdom. Take the group’s staging of Hamlet—one of 15 performances projected on a loop as part of Carriage Trade’s exhibition. Actors perform before a giant screen displaying a film of Richard Burton’s 1964 production of Shakespeare’s play. They lip sync Burton’s words. Doomed Hamlet and his cohort take turns in a wheeled chair attached to a wheeled table; even the furniture moves in tandem with Burton’s version. A piece of chair from this contraption hangs from the gallery’s wall, resonant with theatrical energy.
While some actors appeared in only one of The Wooster Group’s plays, others performed in many. The same goes for the weirdly wonderful objects in Carriage Trade’s delightful and moving show—a false pig’s snout, a harsh red school bell, a beautifully-arched hose, the shapely back of Hamlet’s chair. Lit from above like ready thespians, situated so they face an enormous projection of their own performances, these silent members of The Wooster Group form a noble, funny, haunting assemblage of theatrical sculpture. —Anjali Khosla