They Loved Jonah Bokaer’s Paperwork at the Guggenheim

Dancers Perform On Vanishing by Jonah Bokaer

Dancers Perform On Vanishing by Jonah Bokaer

At the Guggenheim’s rotunda on Thursday evening, five dancers, accompanied by John Cage’s solo cello piece One8, performed On Vanishing, a new work by the young New York-based choreographer Jonah Bokaer that the museum had commissioned in conjunction with its current exhibition, Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity.

Audience members, including Mr. Bokaer’s mother, leaned against the museum’s low, spiraling railings, and watched the action unfold on the marble floor below, where three person-sized sheets of white paper sat next to a Lee Ufan sculpture called Dialogue, which consisted of a steel wall and two large stones. The setting alluded to Mr. Lee’s 1969 Things and Words piece, for which he exposed three sheets of Japanese paper to the elements and then exhibited them inside a museum.

During the performance, the dancers—who included Mr. Bokaer—interacted with each other in and around the sheets of paper and Mr. Lee’s sculpture. They created sounds with the paper, slapping it, shaking it, and crumbling it into a wad in order to communicate and interact with one another. At one point, three dancers each curled into a fetal position on one of the sheets and scrunched the paper together to form a cocoon around themselves. “I loved the paperwork!” one audience member chirped to The Observer.

Mr. Lee, the artist for whose retrospective the “paperwork” was commissioned, was a pivotal figure in the Japanese Mono-ha and Korean monochrome movements. Mr. Lee frequently utilizes austere industrial and natural materials, like rock, steel, and glass in his spare sculptures, which seem to engage in conversations with their viewers and the sites in which they are installed about what is seen and unseen in the world. In a Western museum, it looks like accomplished work by a long-forgotten Minimalist or Post-Minimalist.

Mr. Lee’s paintings are similarly understated, often consisting of single brushstrokes that begin firmly and slowly disappear as they cross the canvas. “The work literally evaporates,” Mr. Bokaer said of Mr. Lee’s paintings, a comment that recalls the title of the choreographer’s work, On Vanishing.

Being performance-based and site-specific, concerned with the metaphysics of presence, and immersed in the abstract vocabulary of space, Mr. Bokaer’s performance proved to be an ideal analog to Mr. Lee’s work. At the same time, it went beyond being a mere supplement, becoming a nuanced expansion on Mr. Lee’s piece, particularly by introducing a comparison between dance and sculpture.

“Dance is very ephemeral, whereas the sculpture is much more concrete,” Mr. Bokaer told The Observer of his thinking about the relationship between his choreography and Mr. Lee’s piece, Dialogue.  However, “Lee Ufan’s philosophy [is] wonderful source material for dance, particularly his use of space, how line is used, how form is used, and absolutely, how the artist thinks about materials.”