SSB and Howl! Happening are delighted to present a snippet from Penny’s performance of Margo Howard-Howard below. The full performance, as well as a video of the infamous performance of Jackie Curtis’ Glamor, Glory, and Gold at 56 Bleecker Gallery will be featured in Love Among the Ruins.
Performance artist Penny Arcade’s work has always taken a journalistic approach, rooted in non-fiction and always drawn from real life around her.
In 1984, she began a series of performance pieces based on people who were known not only to her, but to the local downtown community where she was working. The first character she created was Dame Margo Howard-Howard, whose claim to fame was as Jackie Curtis’ acting coach before the posthumous publication of her 1988 semi-fictional memoir I Was a White Slave in Harlem.
Margo would often appear at Penny’s performances and repeat lines to the audience around her. In Margot’s chronology within her memoir, she identifies 1985 as when “Penny Arcade prepares her performance of Margo Howard-Howard for the stage.”
Arcade’s work has always been improvisational, a gifted mimic and storyteller. Even at the beginning of her career, she would go onstage armed with only the “drag” of the character she was portraying—approaching performance art as a live-action form. Like action painting, performances were unrehearsed and improvised live.
The nature of Arcade’s performance style was only beginning to be understood after being widely misunderstood. In 1988, New York Times critic Stephen Holden publicly took issue with her character of Margo Howard-Howard, saying “Her characterization is a patently unbelievable creation of Susana Ventura, that she has created in order to hang sensationalistic images of sex and drugs on.” The following Sunday, the Times Book Review published a rave review of Margo’s autobiography.
Margot Howard-Howard always said “Penny Arcade does a much better Margo Howard-Howard than I.” Incidentally, Margot and Penny share the same birthday: July 15th.
Photo at blog intro is Penny Arcade as Dame Margo Howard-Howard. Courtesy of the artist.
Glamour, Glory and Gold will be presented at Howl Happening: An Arturo Vega Project (6 East 1st Street, NYC) on September 22nd & 23rd, 7pm. Free to attend.