For two decades, the members of My Barbarian—Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade—have used performance to theatricalize social issues, adapting narratives from modern plays, historical texts, and mass media into structures for their performances. Together, they combine theatrical storytelling with political critique, through a queer lens embracing the aesthetics of camp and kitsch as a strategy of upending fixed notions of taste or convention. Armed with this absurdist sensibility, the troupe turns to their ethos of institutional critique to defamiliarize the familiar and reveal the mythology of late-stage capitalism.
My Barbarian traces the history of the group’s work through video, performances, and documentary footage, as well as sculptures, paintings, drawings, masks, and puppets drawn from their extensive archive. Designed to be an immersive 3-channel video installation for a single gallery, the exhibition features a two-hour compilation of new edits to the trio’s years of collaborative work, featuring performances for the camera, video documentation of live performances, photographs, and previously unreleased footage drawn from the group’s extensive archive. The exhibition also includes a selection of artworks— including sculptures, paintings, drawings, masks, textiles, costumes, and puppets, which emerge and disappear from view through carefully choreographed theatrical lighting. The presentation effectively underscores the theatricality inherent to everyday life, including that of the art institution.
Originating at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in fall 2021, the presentation of My Barbarian at the Institute of Contemporary Art marks an important moment of the group’s homecoming to Los Angeles. Born in California and influenced by local figures such as performance artist Vaginal Davis and Chicano art collective ASCO, as well as the larger context of the political and social movements of the West Coast during the 1960s and 1970s, the members of My Barbarian have played a central role in contributing to the artistic community of Los Angeles. This survey presents the opportunity to celebrate twenty years of working together and recognize the landscape that they were shaped by, and in turn, shaped.
The exhibition will be accompanied by live performances, including Broke People’s Baroque Peoples’ Theater, an evening-long festival taking place at ICA LA on October 29 and coproduced by ICA LA and The Industry; and Double Future, a collaboration with the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT), which will be held at REDCAT December 8–10, 2022.
In addition, the exhibition coincides with the first in-depth monographic publication on the art collective. Titled My Barbarian, the 168-page volume, published by the Whitney Museum and Yale University Press, with contributions by Joshua Chambers-Letson and Lia Gangitano. An overview essay by curator Adrienne Edwards relates their work’s formal qualities to several historical moments over this span: the club era following September 11, 2001; postcolonial performances after the 2008 financial collapse; and political theater responding to the pressing issues of today. Other contributions read the collective’s output through a lens of queer and other critical theory and contextualize it within the twenty first-century experimental performance scene. A richly illustrated visual chronology features texts on each of My Barbarian’s past works written by the artists. Performances and video works are re-created using stills alongside photos, drawings, scripts, and personal materials drawn from the artists’ archives, many which have never previously been published.
My Barbarian is organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and curated by Adrienne Edwards, Engell Speyer Family Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs, with Mia Matthias, former Curatorial Assistant, Whitney Museum of American Art. The presentation at ICA LA is organized by Anne Ellegood, Good Works Executive Director, with Caroline Ellen Liou, Curatorial Assistant.
Lead funding for My Barbarian is provided by Karyn Kohl and Silas Dilworth.
The exhibition is generously funded by Beth Rudin DeWoody, Tim Disney, Charles Gaines and Roxana Landaverde, Jill and Peter Kraus, Sarah and Joel McHale, and the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Family Foundation. Additional support is provided by The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Charitable Foundation and Carla Shen.
Special thanks to VIELMETTER LOS ANGELES.
ICA LA is supported by the Curator’s Council and Fieldwork Council.