Robert Anton @ Tramway, Glasgow
Theatre maker Robert Anton (1949-84) was celebrated by 1970s avant-garde cultural figures across America and Europe. He's remained in relative obscurity since his death in the 80s, but is now the subject of a timely survey of his work in Tramway
The theatre of Robert Anton is suitably presented in Tramway’s smaller room, displaying miniature figurines and illustrations of the artist's theatrical work. Texas-born Anton quickly reached cult status after moving to New York in 1970. Despite the distinguished reputation of his theatre work – audience members included Yoko Ono and John Lennon – he still managed to preserve an intimacy in his shows. He banned any documentation of his work and allowed only a maximum of 18 invited people to see his performances at once.
The exhibition consists of over 40 ‘actors’, props, drawings and a documentary film of audience members recalling their experience of the show. With huge tits and golden claws these figurines may be small but they are in no way demure. Despite each face being roughly the size of a large thumb, they are incredibly detailed with realistic wrinkles and full sets of fake eyelashes. The documentary does less to enlighten the viewer than to tease them, as information is leaked in drips.
The interviewees themselves seem to embody 1970s New York, the city and people that inspired Anton’s work. Despite the heinous style of the artwork these plays were a way for Anton to express himself freely with the audience frequently describing it as a spiritual experience. One particularly moving interviewee and close friend of Anton states, “They could make you cry.”
In many ways Robert Anton fits the often over-romanticised portrayal of the artist as a solitary and melancholic figure, including his fittingly tragic death during the start of the Aids crisis. But in the age of blockbuster shows and Instagram-famous artists, there is something extremely humble in his utter sincerity. Now, when the existence of true sub-cultures seems especially unsustainable, it is a great time to reflect on the work of the cult artist Robert Anton.
Tramway, Glasgow, until 6 Jul