Salley May, the curator of PS122’s Avant-Garde-Arama, is the long-reigning queen of downtown performance art. Whether she’s performing with her dog, Phantom, or strutting across the stage with a chorus of scantily clad women in lobster costumes, she never fails to captivate her audience. Salley’s most recent show, Five and Two (5mg Haldol + 2mg Ativan), a surreal, absurd and darkly comedic exploration of mental illness, involved serving birthday cake to the audience, handing out LP’s, exploding balloons and hacking away at huge hunks of ice. She also works as a psychiatric social worker.
Avant-Garde-Arama is P.S.122s longest running event. When did you
come to P.S.122 and when did you start doing AGA?
Following a brief attempt to break into the L.A.
acting scene, I moved to New York in 1986. I
gravitated immediately to P.S.122, and by 1987 Mark
gave me a full time job as the first receptionist,
since he was getting tired of answering the phone. I
was making 6 bucks an hour, and as a perk I got to
take on organizing Avant-Garde-Arama. I’ve been doing
it ever since and have only gotten more excited about
Can you tell me a little about this months lineup?
As always, the Avant-Garde-Arama committee booked the
event. Committee members bring in recommendations to supplement proposals that artists submit on their own. We cover all the disciplines – music, dance, performance, film, etc. We have a great line-up, and Uncle Jimmy’s Dirty Basement, the hosts of hosts, will be running the show.
How has AGA changed over the years?
Ticket prices have gone from $6 to $15 – and it’s still the
best bang for the buck!
Whats the craziest thing thats ever happened at AGA?
There’s a time limit on the pieces which is supposed to be 10 minutes. The tech crew and the A-G-A committee is always talking about what to do with performances that violate the time. One group went on for about 20 minutes when the entire audience, headed by Mark Russell, pelted floor cushions at the group who had no choice but to leave the stage. Tom Murrin (who is in fact on the A-G-A committee) was yelping with delight.
What does “avant-garde” mean to you?
Because it’s hard to call anything “avant-garde” nowadays when everything seems to have been done, what we work for in Avant-Garde-Arama is something that feels like an “event” or a “happening.” In the last show we married people on stage.