Some Random Ruminations on Value by Yvonne Rainer



Recently I heard a dancer friend say, “I had no idea back then that what I was doing was important!”  How did she find out? (How did I know, “back then”, that what she was doing was important?) What incidents, responses, or writings changed her consciousness of the value of her labors? Seeing her influence on others? Reviews? More remuneration? 

It is not difficult to distinguish monetary value from values such as tonalities of light, color, and sound. But when value stands next to importance, the dollar sign comes alive to vie with all the art critics who ever lived.

When I first came to New York in 1956, barely into my 20s, my favorite painting in the MoMA collection was The Sleeping Gypsy. Can the monetary value of Rousseau’s painting be compared to that of my 79-year old dancer’s body? Can the painterly/aesthetic values of The Sleeping Gypsy be applied to this sleeping woman?

In this age of Reality TV, representations of both the everyday and the fantastical slide uncritically into credulity while the actuality of a sleeping body tips willy-nilly into the self-conscious artifice of “performance.”

Am I the gypsy and you the lion? If my body in this museum context becomes an object, what are you to make of the gypsy?  Which is worth more? Who values which?  Who values which more?

I hear you say all is context.  I used to think that the museum surround insures that the real becomes objectified, while the simulated packs the more powerful punch. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.  In this age of permanently frustrated desires you want to see more than a sleeping gypsy, and much more than a sleeping woman. You want to touch me, maybe even kick me; you want to test me, feel me. 

Does the institution’s survival depend on accommodating such an appetite? Must it now provide sensation at the expense of reflection? Spectacle at the expense of ideas?  Visceral stimulation at the expense of contemplation? Contemplation replaced by voyeurism? Should we call this phenomenon a new form of “co-optation” of the artist? Must the dancer or performance artist cooperate, collude, or resist? In reply, I find myself posing yet another question, “Why should the museum function as it has in the past, as a venerable repository for “things?”

Meanwhile, “value”, now more than ever, remains elusive.