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Monday, October 22, 2007

An Insane, Wonderful Hero

posted by on October 22 at 13:28 PM

When Kim Jones first began performing Mudman, he was a young man in Los Angeles emerging from two worlds: art school, and, before that, a tour in Vietnam. (Once a Marine, always a Marine, as he says in a generous podcast in which he recites his service number.)

In photographs from the time, around 1974, he is sexual, superpowered, muscular as a machineónot tall, but compact, with his face masked. He’s an animal. He wears sculptures on his naked body as he stands on a rooftop and is photographed by a girlfriend. He poses for a punk magazine shoot. Even when he’s not trying to look tough, he does.

Those days are over. On Friday night at the Henry Art Gallery, Jones performed Mudman in the gallery. He hasn’t performed the sculpture for some time, but he decided to do it here because Seattle was the last stop on his retrospective’s national tour.

Mudman has changed.

In front of an assembled audience, Jones removed his clothing down to white boxer shorts and a pair of black boots. He dipped his hands into a silver bucket, covered his body in light-colored mud, then eased into a squat so he could slip into a lattice of sticks like putting on a heavy backpack.


When I got there, he hadn’t moved very far from the bucket, and there was a reception line to talk to him, as if he were a bride or a kid who’d just taken communion.


“You’re like an insane, wonderful hero,” a jumpy guy wearing a bowling shirt told him. Their interaction was awkward, because the bowling-shirted guy seemed to treat Mudman like a rock star, to not notice his inherent weirdness.

Jones doesn’t act out a part when he’s performing Mudman, which is part of what’s strange about it. He answers people’s questions, talks to them gamely about sculpture. “What do you think it is?” he retorts to a trio of skeptical kids in a video on display at the Henry. They walk away.

Here, people stayed, and talked, most of them amongst themselves. “He looks like a tree,” one woman whispered. One guy rubbed his finger in the mud on the floor and applied it to a drawing he was making.

I shook Mudman’s hand and got mud on mine. I didn’t know how else to greet a person-sculpture who also happened to be a person I’d met once before. When I’d interviewed him, he told me that sometimes, he lifts the pantyhose that cover his face because it freaks people out too much when they try to talk to him. But that night, he kept the pantyhose on, and it crushed his left eyelid, which left him disfigured. There was something incredibly soft about this quiet, besieged Mudman, with his white, saggy stomach and his crushed eye.

He was also tired. By the time I got to him, he’d been wearing the sculpture for almost an hour. “I’m about to take a shower,” he said, forcing the smile of a person who has been trying to escape a situation for several minutes. His shoulders were red, rubbed raw by the straps. Ever since he walked along Wilshire Boulevard from sunrise to sunset, and sunset to sunrise, Mudman has been a feat of endurance. By performing now, Jones admits the fatigue of age into the performance. The commanding, totem-like power of the sculpture and the flabby reality of the body throw each other into relief. Mudman as King Lear.

Mudman makes his move toward the wall, and the crowd hushes. He’s sliding around on the muddy wood floor, constantly catching his balance, and a maintenance woman in purple plastic gloves is wiping up the area where the audience is standing. He half-slides, half-falls to the floor and slowly, carefully, removes the sculpture. He keeps on the pantyhose. He gets up, picks up his clothing, and walks out.

Everyone, immediately, misses him.

RSS icon Comments



Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 22, 2007 1:32 PM

Coming from Manhattan I am something of an expert on contemporary art. I practically grew up in MOMA. I was at the Henry and loved Mudman. It was erudite, and provocative.

However I was standing next to an ignorant "Seattle Native" who said something like "The Hopi Indians have been doing mudmen for something like five thousand years, this is lame".

I ask this "art patron" where they were from and when I found out they were locals. I simple told them they were too ignorant and provincial to appreciate real art. The person with this Seattle dumbass said "If I wanted to see lame mud costumes I'd go to burning man." I said "Well Burning Man is no art gallery." Then I walked away.

I hate how stupid the racist Christian locals are in Seattle!

Posted by Issur | October 22, 2007 1:45 PM

As always, Issur nails it. Mudman is a pathetic retard.

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