Who Benefits?

Wednesday night’s Downtown Dinner at the World Trade Center was a benefit for LMCC, the non-profit that gives grants and residencies to artists to work Downtown, where they in the last decade probably couldn’t otherwise afford to keep studios. It’s tough for non-profits because for-profits aren’t necessarily making any, but real estate saved the day, contributing generously and buoying the benefit. Bravo, forces of progress, who then watched patiently as the night’s entertainment took on themes of gentrification—if not literally discussing real estate, then pretty directly about the way that black culture in America is marketed and turned into palatable entertainment. Performance artist and LMCC resident Rashaad Newsome sent about twenty women on stage, all young and black and attractive and wearing Kai Kuhne’s Spring 2009 collection. They took their places in a line on an elevated stage behind microphones, making general allusion to Motown. Across the room a man, the artist held a video game controller. He hacks into a Wii, towering symbol of onanistic masculinity, so that by moving his hands, he conducts the women, directing them to affect relatively musical, stereotypical maneuvers like neck twists and finger snaps. Newsome provokes behaviors  designed to distract from a black woman’s sexuality; repeated, they’re more troublesome. At the end of the performance, the women’s departure from the stage is staggered, until just one remains. Singing alone, that last woman’s voice cracked—probably the one unrehearsed element of the performance.