The Broad's 'Summer Happenings' shows the need for smaller, eclectic hand-picked bills

Across an evening of action in and around the Broad in downtown Los Angeles, a sold-out crowd Saturday witnessed a wild combination of performances. They spanned disciplines, and connected works from the museum’s collection and rising creators.

The second in a season-long monthly performance series called “Nonobject(ive): Summer Happenings at the Broad,” the night featured art by innovative choreographers Brontez Purnell and Ryan Heffington, synthesizer composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, intensely noisy beat maker the Haxan Cloak, punk writer and famed New York punk musician Richard Hell and a DJ set of post-punk and new wave by acclaimed musician Sky Ferreira, among others.

Combined, the roster delivered an often unforgettable string of moments, and it did so while thematically exploring what it described in its notes as mining “the Broad’s investment in ‘downtown’ art sensibilities” that were “inspired by the asphalt jungle.” 

On a broader scale, the expansive array of performers confirmed the need for the kind of hand-picked, modestly sized performance experience mostly absent from our region’s festival offerings. The series was curated by former Pitchfork executive editor and current Kickstarter operative Brandon Stosuy and writer Bradford Nordeen, best known for his work as founder of the Dirty Looks website. 

If at times that downtown theme was tough to find — Ferreira’s spinning of songs by Oingo Boingo, Madonna and Ariel Pink was hardly gritty — the setting more than compensated. As Ferreira played Devo’s version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” sound moved in oblong motion, bouncing off the Broad’s honeycomb exterior and echoing across the plaza. 

That same outdoor stage provided a platform for the Canadian synth pop curio Mas Ysa to deliver a set of smart experimental beat music. The artist born Thomas Arsenault did songs from his new album, “Seraph,” and as part of his “performance” drained most of a bottle of pink wine. He also repeatedly and humorously assured the crowd that his visa was in order. 

Inside the space, artists set up in three locations and did their thing during staggered sets to provide a seamless batch of happenings. In the main lobby, musician and choreographer Purnell, founder of the band the Younger Lovers, performed two pieces as attendees encircled him.

In the second, the artist wore ragged underwear as he interacted with silver-painted objects. Wearing silver reflective sunglasses, he skated on a silver skateboard. He smashed cassettes and strung the tape across the space before cocooning himself in a loose white bodysuit.

The mesmerizing music that artist Anenon created as part of his trio mixed elements of free jazz and ambient electronic music to fill the Broad’s Oculus Hall. 

Less inspired was Hell, who read excerpts from two pieces in that same room, one a noir-inspired novel while the Haxan Cloak stood before his laptop and offered punctuated sound. Attempting to be provocative, Hell’s excerpt focused mostly on imagined sexual conquests read in graphic detail. After Hell finished, the Haxan Cloak stayed onstage to present his often abrasive beat music.

In the third floor gallery space, two of the night’s highlights took place with Takashi Murakami’s massive painting “In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow” as the backdrop. Los Angeles-based synthesizer composer Smith performed work from her new album, “Ears.”

The artist, who works with a fascinating mix of vintage and new synthesizers to craft humming works that feature her manipulated voice as texture, twisted knobs while maneuvering along synth keyboards.  

An evening-ending dance piece by Los Angeles choreographer Heffington occupied four corners of the same room. As the music of transgender singer and artist Anohni echoed across the gallery, groups of dancers dressed in black and red heaved and huddled, lurching together and individually. Heffington is best known for his work with art pop singer and songwriter Sia on her video for “Chandelier.”   

Anohni’s song “4 Degrees” offered devastating lyrics about wishing the world away. As the lyrics “I wanna burn the sky, I wanna burn the breeze/ I wanna see the animals die in the trees” ripped through the room, the dancers huddled as if bracing for a gust of fire. 

There’s a lot of terrible music out there. For tips on the stuff that’s not, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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