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Performa's Malcolm McLaren Award

Celebrating the life and work of the Sex Pistols manager, Lou Reed and Greil Marcus will tonight present the first ever Malcolm McLaren Award at NYC's Bowery Hotel

Performa, a NYC new visual art performance biennial, is tonight handing out the first award in honour of the man who created punk band Sex Pistols. Having planned a collaborative project together back in 2009, their plans were abruptly cut short when McLaren passed away last year. Mark Beasley, the curator of Performa, with the support of the director, Roselee Goldberg, quickly decided that, instead of just moving on, a new annual award was to be handed out in conjunction with the art festival.

Given out at the end of the biennial, the $10,000 cash prize and Marc Newson-designed award will be presented to an artist aged forty years or younger who demonstrates the most innovative and thought-provoking performance during the event. The first edition, tonight at the Bowery Hotel, will be presented to the winner by Lou Reed and Greil Marcus. We spoke to McLaren's long-time creative and life partner, Young Kim, who acts as one of the judges on the panel...

Dazed Digital: What has your personal involvement been for Performa 11?
Young Kim: In 2009 the curator, Mark Beasley who had brought Malcolm's Musical Paintings, "Shallow 1-21" to Times Square for Creative Time (the public arts organisation in NY) contacted us as he was working for Performa. He asked Malcolm if he would consider doing a performance during Performa. At that time, I had been urging Malcolm to consider his lectures as performances. He was such an extraordinary storyteller and public speaker. I am not sure if I have ever met anyone on par. He had a rare gift. The "Radio Movies" he made for the BBC, "Malcolm McLaren's Musical Map of London" and "Malcolm McLaren's Musical Map of Los Angeles" are brilliant aural feasts that transport you-- they are so visually evocative.

He was, as Steven Spielberg called him, in reference to his track, Madame Butterfly, "a director without a camera". I thought listening to him tell a story was as entertaining as watching a play. When Mark asked Malcolm to do a performance, Malcolm decided to give a lecture. The title was: "Jesus Christ is a Sausage" which is a reference to Dadaism. However, not long after, we discovered Malcolm was ill so we had to cancel this. Mark never forgot about Malcolm and this Spring, he approached me about his idea of creating an award in Malcolm's honour. I thought it was a wonderful idea-- something Malcolm would have appreciated. Many friends in the US had wanted a memorial service here, but it was just too sad for me to simply gather on the anniversary of his death.

It felt to me as if we would be celebrating his death. It was too painful. But this was something different, something positive. Malcolm never looked back. So, I agreed to the idea and we worked to make it happen with the support of Roselee Goldberg, the director of Performa. It was imperative for me that this have real integrity -- this was crucial to Malcolm. He never compromised. So, I made certain that everyone involved would be someone Malcolm was personally friends with and someone Malcolm respected artistically.

DD: Tell us about the award and all the people involved...
Young Kim:
When Performa asked me who should design the award, my answer was instant; Marc Newson! I believe he is the top designer today. Greil Marcus is someone Malcolm deeply respected and I knew he taught in NY in the Fall. Performa wanted a performer to give the award so I asked Lou Reed as he was one of the very few performing artists that Malcolm genuinely liked and admired. Malcolm met Michael Bracewell towards the end of his life when they did a talk together at the Baltic Centre of Contemporary Art in Newcastle at the premiere of his final work, "Paris, Capital of the XXIst Century". In my experience, Michael is the only person who has ever been able to have a public discussion with Malcolm -- Malcolm was so overpowering, it was rare to have someone who could actually intelligently converse. Often, these things deteriorated into a monologue! They hit it off on a personal level, so I was thrilled when Michael's schedule coincided with the event and he agreed to speak.  

DD: So it's been a network of Malcolm's friend coming together...
Young Kim: So many friends have contributed in different ways. The generosity has been enormous.  For me, what always made me happiest was for Malcolm to be loved.  So I've been extremely grateful and genuinely moved by everyone's heartfelt desire to get involved and celebrate Malcolm, starting with Mark and Performa. In terms of the judging, Performa felt I should be involved to protect the integrity of the spirit of Malcolm as I was so close to him and understand him. Over the 12 years we were together, we ended up always agreeing on everything-- from fashion, art, food, book, films, people... you name it.  So I have spent the past couple of weeks watching many of the performances, while helping organising this event.

DD: What does this exhibition/award entail?
Young Kim: Three judges-- the art critic Claire Bishop, curator Jay Sanders and myself will determine the recipient of the award.  The official description is for an artist, aged up to forty years old, "who demonstrates the most innovative and thought-provoking performance during the biennial."  I am not an art critic nor an art curator.  I am very instinctual so for me, it is simply what I think is the best.  The winner will receive a cash prize of $10,000 along with an award that Marc Newson has specially designed.  I'm very excited to see it!   No one has seen it yet.

DD: How and why were the specific works picked for this event?
Young Kim: As there are so many performances in the Biennial, Performa (mainly Roselee and Mark), created a shortlist for us to consider.  

DD: What do you hope the audience will take away from it?
Young Kim: What has struck me in watching these performances is that there has been a solid leitmotif-- the eternal struggle artists have about their condition. It is the same and never changes, no matter how great the artist. I recently finished the magnificent biography on De Kooning by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan.  De Kooning worries whether anyone notices what he is doing, does anyone like it? Does anyone care? These same questions have popped up in many performances, starting on opening night, with Elmgreen & Dragset's brilliant play, "Happy Days in the Art World" and Simon Fujiwara's wonderful "The Boy Who Cried Wolf".  Malcolm was no exception to this artist angst.  I hope that the audience will appreciate what artists go through to create something magical -- to create something from nothing. As Malcolm always said, great artists are "alchemists".