Dream Big: MoMA PS1 Warm Up Installations, 2011-2015
“If you’re making something large the whole body is the hand,” says artist Naomi Clark, who describes her process as a painter as “full body.” She stays fit for this reason, so that she can stretch herself in dancer-like motions as she paints. “There’s the practiced element, and there’s also the natural cadence of the body,” she says, sitting in Fort Makers sun-soaked, plant-studded studio in Brooklyn, overlooking the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
So in 2011, when curator Jocelyn Miller approached Fort Makers about designing sets for MoMA PS1’s acclaimed dance party, known as Warm Up, Clark was the perfect fit. For five summers, Fort Makers transformed the modern art museum’s sprawling outdoor stage into an immersive, interactive mise-en-scène, using Clark’s painterly, abstract shapes— inspired by “the body in motion” — as the primary focal point. International DJs and artists like Solange performed in front of Fort Makers’ nautical pillow totems, repurposed thrift store denim, and Noguchi-inspired papier mâché sculptures. The design process for these installations was an exercise in scale. “It was definitely a different experience to work with visibility,” says Clark, describing the outdoor courtyard space as “huge.”
Though daunted, initially, by the museum’s size, it wasn’t the first time Clark worked on a large-scale project. For Fort Makers debut work, The Blanket Project, she appliqued and painted large vintage blankets made out of wool, which were later photographed positioned in nature, a form of what Fort Makers calls action painting. A few years later, in 2012, Clark collaborated with the clothing company Anthropologie; she was tasked with painting a mile-and-a-half long bolt of silk noil, a “conversation between three colorways” that the company would later construct into one of a kind dresses. “The idea behind the dress project was that you’re part of a painting,” says Clark, “so these little fractions would break off and be out in the world individually, but be part of a whole.”
Clark applied that same philosophy to designing Warm Up, particularly when considering how to employ experiential elements that would involve the audience, which included Venetian-inspired masks and painted beach balls. “It was just so fun to see your art work with all these dancing people and to see how it influenced the energy and space. I’d like to think that it was projecting energy and taking it in and influencing space in that way,” she says. “Having people interact with your art in that way, it’s in the background but it’s also in the foreground of what they’re seeing.”
Below, Clark reflects on five years of Warm Up.
“The first year we hung triangles that were stretched and painted in front of a giant glow-in-the-dark canvas. We imagined these big denim sails that were patchworked together — so we went to the thrift store and bought the biggest jeans we could find — extra extra extra large — and cut them up and then stretched them over triangular frames.
Also, we wanted to really up the interactive performance element, and we were thinking about how we wanted to see the artwork on the stage somehow infuse into the dance party. Originally the idea was to have a graffiti station, where people would get tagged with spray paint, but of course some people are not going to want to paint their APC jeans, so we decided to get a bunch of white T-shirts for tagging. People liked how the spray paint felt, their bodies being sprayed. It was an intimate moment.”
“The next year we created an Isamu Noguchi inspired installation with bone-like sculptures hanging in front of what resembled a large cut-out mask. The objects were paper mache and they were another attempt to bring the stage out into the crowd. The shapes reference movement and body parts and also structure: elements taken from the human form. The Matisse type form, and the more organic, dancer movement. We did face painting that year, which was even more intimate. It was tribal face paint, so kind of like Brooklyn Carnival for young hipsters.”
“In 2013, we made a cut-up composition inspired by old school billboards. We called it the car wash. We took a fabric painting, cut it into strips, and put it in front of two different colored backgrounds. So you’re seeing two pictures at once, two different compositions interacting with each other: the idea of a half-seen, half-hidden identity. That was the other thing with scale: things are confusing up close but when you get far away you can start to see how they’re connected.
The interactive element for this show was fabric masks. We painted a couple of hundred of those and threw them into the crowd. In that setting, in the beginning especially, there’s a self-conscious element: like Who’s going to dance? Who’s going to get into it? But the masks had this element where you’re not you anymore. It’s why people go to Burning Man: to experiment with this identity you can’t bring out all the time. And the masks created this opportunity for people to express themselves in that way.”
“Our second-to-last year, we showed these really heavy pillow totems. Some of them, like the banana shaped ones, are huge; seven, eight feet tall. They were hanging on top of each other, connected by rope, to make a totem. They were kind of inspired by Louise Bourgeois. At Fort Makers, we were doing a lot of pillows and just thinking about stuffed things, the visual look of something that was stuffed: stuffed waves, inner tubes, donut shapes.
We painted 12 beach balls white, to disguise that they were beach balls, and then painted over them. I love the idea of disguising an everyday object; you can take anything and paint it white and then it’s ready to become art. We threw the beach balls into the crowd from the roof. The performance element was always an action element, like art bombs falling. You also see the naturally destructive nature of people, because the balls got consumed by the end of the night.”
“For our final show, in 2015, the set was pretty simple but it was huge that year. I think we just saw that space and that stage, where it once seemed so large, was starting to look like a small area. We knew that we could work within the stage under the covered roof, but what about covering the building? I did two paintings, on a very light, wearable cotton, that were just gigantic. It was so cool to see that. It was kind of crazy in our studio because I had to paint in huge sections and then pile up the sections that were done. This was the last year that we did artwork for Warm Up, and it definitely felt like the grand finale in terms of scale. We basically made the backdrop as large as we could.
The thing I’ll remember most about Warm Up is really feeling like the artwork was infusing energy into the space. After we installed the work, we’d go home and get ready, and there’s just this build up of anticipation. You’re walking into this very intense, charged, full space of people that are just ready to dance and move. And so much was centered around people letting go. Just a freedom. That’s still one of my favorite parts.”