If you’re reading this section of The Oracle, you’re probably the type of person who also enjoys a walk through a museum.
On a cold winter’s day, spending a few minutes surrounded by paintings, photographs, sculptures and even the mandatory environmentalist cookbook detailing how to cook roadkill and harvest herbs off a sidewalk — these are warm and familiar strolls for a college student, a pleasant way to while away an afternoon.
However, if you walked into the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at noon this past Saturday, April 1, you wouldn’t have been alone. A pedestal in the middle of the North Wing, Thomas Albrecht was waiting for you: a man in full black suit, his work boots off, with a briefcase, noose and ball of yarn nearby.
Thomas Albrecht has been a professor for the Fine Art Department at SUNY New Paltz for three years, specializing in performance art. Albrecht’s piece this time around, aptly titled Waiting, is seemingly antithetical to the very concept of performance. Much of the time, Albrecht is silent and still, hardly removed from the static imagery of sidewalks and paddocks that surround him. Only every so often does Albrecht emerge from the background. In one such moment, a diligent audience member might experience a subtle glance, a sharp inhale or a balloon being quietly blown up and let go.
“One of the things that performance art sets up for the viewer is an opportunity to deal with the slowing down of time,” Albrecht said. “Much of my work deals with very minimal gestures, done over a fairly significant amount of time, so it demands of the viewer a kind of slowing down, a kind of patience, a kind of presence with the performer.”
According to the artist, Waiting comes in the tradition of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 play Waiting for Godot, in which the titular character never arrives. Albrecht, alone in the center of the museum floor, is somber, unassuming and meditative.
Through his presence in his work, Albrecht gravitationally draws attention from the exhibition, as if a central black hole sucking light from a celestial plane of glittering stars. Far from the expectations of performance art as provocative through explosive action, Albrecht’s performance reflects the play’s breakdown of expectations, expertly revealing his personal restraint.
Zach Bowman, manager of education and visitor experience at the Dorsky, shared his excitement about Albrecht’s performance piece.
“It is always a great treat for visitors to experience performance art, which can disrupt what can be an otherwise static museum visit,” Bowman said. “Average museum visitors tend to spend between 15 and 30 seconds viewing most works of art. When confronted with a live performer, visitors respond differently than they would to an object; the human presence tends to slow people down, forcing them to consider more deeply the intent or meaning of a work.”
While Albrecht originally studied painting and drawing as an artist, he gradually made the transition toward performance. Much of his work deals with the passage of time, he said: previous works involved durational drawings, which audiences could see being made on a daily basis, over several months in a given space. However, at the end of each piece, the work would then be painted over, leaving only a static image, with no remnant of the hundreds of hours of work that were poured into them.
“It was a pretty natural shift in my work,” Albrecht noted. “I was interested in gesture, the way the body moves, the way it’s interpreted.”
His first works involved what he calls “interventions,” to see how audiences on a city street might react when confronted by something unknown. Examples include a man or woman lying prostrate on the city sidewalk, or men shouting “Don’t” or “Believe” into megaphones across the street from one another.
Though much of Albrecht’s work deals with the continued march of time, there is only one more showing of Waiting planned on campus. Join Albrecht this Saturday, April 8 from noon to 2 p.m. His wait is nearly over.