On June 25th in Paris I witnessed a tenderly moving performance by the artist Nicola entitled "La Cape du Blues" (The Cape of Blues) at Place Saint-Sulpice as part of "Les artistes cassent la baraque" (with the assistance of Galerie Patricia Dorfmann). Some of you may be familiar with NicolaŐs late-1960s/early-1970s group street performances such as Red Coat: Same Skin For Everybody and the outstanding 1975 piece Rug. This performance was very much in the same vein, this time involving 12 performers, 1 saxophonist, and Nicola herself, who directed the event - with a crowd of around 50 people all watching and walking along following the pageant.
Each of the 12 performers who wore the beautiful blue cape represented a dead individual (mostly artists and art-world luminaries) whom Nicola admired. The power of the piece was in giving the departed a charming exodus. The names I recognized here celebrated were Yves Klein, Sidney Bechet, Iris Clert, Cesar, Marcel Broodthaers, Pierre Restany (who I knew fairly well and miss dearly) and Raymond Hains (who I had met a few times before he passed away).
The piece consisted of the preparation for procession and the procession itself: which was somewhat like a New Orleans style funeral march; particularly as the saxophonist provided a continuous musical bluesy riff up to the point of entry into the Saint-Sulpice Church (famous for itŐs paintings by Delacroix and its referencing in The daVinci Code). What I particularly admired about the piece was it mixture of informal casualness within a formalized ritual, a feeling that at times verged on the sacred. The mood was sometimes heavy/sad, as when one focused on the hooded heads of the performers as the blustery wind blew hard, naturally associating them with the Catholic religious processions one can see in parts of Spain. But Nicola kept it pretty light at heart, so it never verged on the turgid or pompous. At the same time she showed some real verve when she directed the procession through the back of the church during the celebration of a mass, and this moment was, for me, the climax of the happening. As the priest was lecturing, the blue parade snaked its way around the church - and I had to bite my tongue to prevent me from laughing out loud. It was then when it became a most joyous fading.