Peter Innisfree Moore

This review-article appeared in Artforum International on April 1, 2004.

PETER MOORE, by David Frankel

at Sonnabend [Gallery]

The photographer Peter Moore was the visual historian of a thickly busy period in New York art that began in the early '60s, when he grew fascinated by the blossoming of what his archive calls "Fluxus, happenings, performance art, experimental music, and dance." With his wife, Barbara Moore, he was a part of this community as well as its observer and documentarian.

Performance is ephemeral: "If I don't record these," Moore said of the works he photographed, "they'll be lost." So he did, shooting several hundred thousand pictures that treat this art with an artistry of their own and collectively fix an image of their time and place.

The photographs here were taken between 1963 and 1975, and, although many of their protagonists are still working, they show a vanished world. Moore followed a spectrum of performers but this selection focused mainly on the founding choreographers of the Judson Dance Theater: Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Simone Fort, David Gordon, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, and Yvonne Rainer. The presence of Merce Cunningham's Night Wandering, which Moore shot in 1965, seemed a nod to a father of that scene, and several photographs of performances by Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Morris showed work in its orbit. A number of images, featuring Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, and Charlotte Moorman, touched on Fluxus, but those artists, too, were to varying degrees infused with Cunningham-type thinking, or rather with thinking inseparably shared by Cunningham and his partner John Cage. (In fact, one photograph here from 1965 showed Paik and Moorman performing a Cage composition.) The show was conceived, then, not to suggest the scope of Moore's archive but to sketch one corner of it.

The audience for the performances at the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square, and in spiritually congenial lofts and gallery spaces, can never have been big, and the dances were made up to forty-odd years ago; surely the majority of this show's viewers must rely on images like Moore's to know what those works were like. It takes nothing from the photographs, though, and is in fact a credit to their poetry, to wonder how reliable they are in that respect. One thing we commonly hear about the Judson and related work is how interested it was in refusing refined choreography, in fusing the movements of trained dancers with the movements people make in their everyday lives. Also, of course, those performances were viewed from places in the audience, with all the pluses of intimacy, the sense of breath and force, that live dance brings, and all the minuses of diminished scale and single viewpoint enforced by a fixed seat. Moore properly set out to beat those minuses, and beautifully did; but sometimes we notice the elegance of his read. I wonder, for example, whether Rauschenberg's Pelican, 1965, a performance with roller skates and parachutes, might have had an absurdist quality masked by Moore's chiaroscuro photos of the gliding dance; or whether that Cage performance, in which a half-nude Paik held a wire along his back so that Moorman could play him like a cello, might have had a giggly sexual tension that the photograph makes tender and sober. On the other hand, to document the famous Brown piece of 1970 in which Joseph Schlichter, suitably roped and harnessed, walked down the side of a seven-story building, Moore framed and timed the shot so that the figure high above almost blurs into the overexposed sky, looking simultaneously casual and supernatural as he takes his stroll on the perpendicular. Looking at that photo, we think, Yes, this is how it was - but better.

The caption of the photograph above reads: "Much beloved avant garde photographer Peter Moore at USCO performance. He could be counted on as present at any and all events of that period."