Anna Banana

Kunstverein Amsterdam
Hazenstraat 28
October 21, 2017–January 13, 2018

View of “Anna Banana,” 2017. From left: second “Town Fool” costume, 1972; costume for the “Banana Olympics,” 1975; costume for the “Banana Olympics,” 1980.

Anna Banana’s exhibition in Amsterdam is her first comprehensive retrospective in the Netherlands, a remarkably compact overview of her prolific practice as a performance artist, publisher, collector, costume designer, and integral contributor to the International Mail-Art Network (IMAN). The guiding principle of her work is interactivity, with the fruit of her nom de plume as the central visual element. A window display starts off the show with three illustrious costumes, including a rainbow patterned outfit made for her 1971–72 “Town Fool” project in Victoria, Canada, the piece which initiated her formal transformation into Anna Banana prior to her official name change. The other two ensembles were made for her famously uncanny “Banana Olympics” events in San Francisco and at Bear Creek Park, in British Colombia, in 1975 and 1980, respectively. It’s inside the exhibition, though, that the true gravity of her work is revealed.

Two vitrines in the middle room contain a decades-spanning collection of her meticulously designed, self-published magazines, including issues of Artist Stamp News (1988–96) and Banana Rag (1971–91/1996–2016), as well as editions of Artiststamps, 1991, documenting the history of both Artist Stamp News and works by other mail-art artists. On one side of a yellow tiled carpet is an arrangement of videos recording several significant performances, most notably her pseudo-scientific “Proof Positive Germany Is Going Bananas” tour through Germany in the mid-nineties. And, finally, there are eight editions of VILE magazine—her platform created to counter FILE magazine’s claim in the 1970s that mail-art was dead—which she self-published between 1975 and 1980.

The artist’s fascination with Dadaistic humor, the social impulse toward self-diagnosis, and the Bohemianism of the late sixties and early seventies is resilient and ever-present. Her inimitable persona makes her ongoing practice still pertinent in every respect.

Huib Haye van der Werf