Featured prominently in both the Whitney Biennial and the New Museum Triennial, Wu Tsang is currently one of the most visible artists in New York City. His contributing work to the Biennial, WILDNESS, was screened at MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight in February and will be showing at the Whitney from May 9-13. The film is a portrait of the historic, queer-friendly bar Silver Platter and Tsang’s performance art parties there. Two videos by Tsang—For how we perceived a life and Shape of the Right Statement—are also currently on display in 16mm and video at the New Museum.
In Tsang’s own words, WILDNESS “is about an art party that took place inside a safe space for undocumented trans women in a gentrifying neighborhood.” The artist points out the connection people would make between WILDNESS and Jennie Livingston’s 1991 documentary Paris is Burning, especially in the way he explores the intersections of race, class, and gender; this parallel concerns Tsang, as he points out, “People always want to hear a story about gay/trans/X/misfits finding a place to belong. That was exactly not the story I wanted to tell.” Tsang’s intentions lie in critiquing how Paris has been interpreted by mainstream culture, rather than appropriating it.
Although Tsang can be easily pigeonholed as a mixed-race/trans artist of color, these identities provide a hotbed of common misconceptions for his performance work to challenge and problematize. For Performa ‘11, Tsang’s performance Full Body Quotation explored ideas of authenticity and “realness” in drag culture by echoing voices from various transgender films and media. For how we perceived a life and Shape of the Right Statement can be seen as an extension and predecessor, respectively, of the performance.
Wu Tsang’s videos are on view as part of the New Museum Triennial from February 15 to April 22; screenings and discussions of WILDNESS will be held at the Whitney Museum of American Art from May 9 to 13. Wu Tsang is represented by Clifton Benevento in New York.