Photorealist Portraits: Monologues from the 1970s and 1980s by Annette Leddy

Jo Harvey AllenIn 1986, the New York Times announced that performance art had “reached an auspicious historical moment.” The occasion was Franklin Furnace’s tenth anniversary gala, which presented a history of what was then considered a difficult-to-define genre. Beginning with the futurists, the event honored Marinetti, then moved forward in history to award Allan Kaprow, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman and other ‘60s pioneers. It concluded with performances by their somewhat more mainstream descendents, including Lily Tomlin, Eric Bogosian, and JoHarvey Allen.

The 1980s artists each created pieces that were part sociological and part psychological inquiry, sometimes based on interviews with citizens of the American heartland. The results were portraits about women and men inhabiting an America that many in the art world knew only superficially. Occupying a zone between avant-garde performance art and popular genres, these artists appeared in diverse venues – public spaces, commercial spaces, museums, theaters, radio, television, and film.

This page presents that kind of dramatic monologue from the 1980s, especially those that developed in conjunction with the feminist project of recuperating female narratives of the disadvantaged or culturally retrograde. The first piece will be Jo Harvey Allen’s Halley Lou (1983), the story of a female revivalist preacher.

Allen’s work has direct roots in the 1960s performance world. Her first teacher and mentor was Yvonne Rainer, who in 1971 was a visiting artist at the State University in Fresno, where Allen was then living. Influenced in part by Rainer’s This is the story of a woman who.. , Allen began developing her monologues about waitresses, which she initially performed in truck stops and diners. These portraits eventually became the extended monologue Counter Angel, which she performed at the New Museum in 1982. Hally Lou premiered in 1983 as part of a six season series of performances called “Explorations,” curated by Julie Lazar of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Allen went on to perform characters like these in films such as True Stories (1986) and Fried Green Tomatoes (1991).

This version of Hally Lou is from the Aspen Art Festival in 1983.

Hally Lou (1983): By Jo Harvey Allen