It’s sort of amusing that artist Michael Barrett’s first Las Vegas performance in 2008 was dubbed “an introduction to performance art.” By then most cities had been decades into the genre. Yet Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world, was barely dipping its toes.
Still, the warm welcome and the energy of the audience brought Barrett back to town for another performance at the CAC, and a little more than a year ago (after an extended stay in Europe) the Bay Area native moved here. Barrett’s now two performances into his Standing Room Only series at Trifecta Gallery and has moved into an Arts District cottage that serves as a workspace, gallery and possible residency for other performance artists coming to town. He’s convinced that Vegas will become a new voice in contemporary art. But for all his ambition in this fertile city, there’s the idea that performance art can be an indigestible genre for all audiences, making Barrett even more fun to watch.
Here’s a guy, often in a jockstrap, cleats and hood of some sort, submerging himself in water for an extended period of time, getting punched in the face repeatedly or using his glutes to shuttle things around a room. It’s a brilliant manifestation for the former college football player and U.S. Marine who spent his life amid alpha males until cancer challenged his proverbial Superman complex and forced him to reexamine his life.
The performance work, often involving installation and video, derives from male ritual, hazing and training, and offers what Barrett refers to as a “behind-the-scenes look at very private gender-based organizations.” Endurance, corporality and gender issues are the foundation for Barrett’s work, destined to ignite the scene here.