Late Nights at the Whitney
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“Welcome to the future of Neutralism,” Marianne Vitale declares at the beginning of her video Patron. Staring directly into the camera, Vitale orders her audience to stand up, open their mouths wide, recite tongue-twisting rhymes, and “spit at the ceiling.” While insisting on compliance with her videotaped instructions, Vitale’s performance parodies authoritarian posturing, especially when her abusive demands border on the surreal (“imagine your feet soaking in gopher urine”) and her monologue evolves into a poetic flight of mean-spirited aphorisms. Vitale’s tone recalls the rhetoric of early twentieth-century avant-garde movements such as Futurism, whose members wrote breathless manifestos calling for radical change. While Vitale’s philosophy of “Neutralism,” which she never defines, may be grounded in a sense of irony, her direct address nonetheless retains something of the historical avant-garde’s conviction of art’s ability to jar viewers into action.