Exclusive: Nikhil Chopra Channels Victorian Cross-Dressing Dandy at NuMu

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What do Ellis Island and abandoned buildings have in common with sleeping, drawing, and cross-dressing? In the case of performance artist Nikhil Chopra, moonlighting as a Victorian draftsman named Yog Raj Chitrakar for a project at the New Museum, documenting the history of old places becomes a ritualistic spectacle when partnered with a peek into the artist’s everyday routine. (Bonus: this exhibition has nothing to do with Dakis Joannou and donor-related NuMu catfights.) Combining “self-portraiture, autobiography, history, fantasy, and sexuality,” Chopra as Yog Raj is visiting New York landmarks throughout November in the process of creating large-scale charcoal drawings that form a panoramic view of a city in flux. Follow along on his journey with our exclusive behind-the-scenes image gallery, after the jump.

Click through for our slideshow illustrating Nikhil Chopra’s “Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX.”

Currently on view in the ground-floor glass gallery of the SANAA-designed museum are the tangible remnants of “Memory Drawing IX.” Yog Raj, a dandyish, colonial personnage who traipses about the city in a boater and lightweight suit, lived in the gallery from November 4 to 8, inviting visitors in to interact with the living space and witness the rituals of the artist in character. A mattress rests on the floor next to a small dining table laden with dirty plates, a wine bottle, and a dessicated tomato — a half-eaten tableau calling to mind vanitas paintings and Old Master still lifes. Giant swaths of paper are tacked onto the gallery walls, displaying frenetic loops of charcoal drawn inside the artist’s glass prison alongside the precise cityscape renderings done on-site at Ellis Island. A final performance, in which Yog Raj meticulously applied facepaint while onlookers took one billion camera photos, culminated in a dramatically still 45-minute presentation of the artist in full drag regalia.

The work of Mumbai-based, emerging artist Nikhil Chopra has been exhibited at the Serpentine Gallery in London, this year’s Venice Biennale, and “Marina Abramovic Presents” at the 2009 Manchester International Festival. This is Chopra’s first appearance in the performing arts biannual Performa. The New Museum installation will be on view in the ground floor gallery until February 14, 2010; see here for related programming.