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Thursday, March 7, 2013


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Performer belts out Ronstadt tunes
Linda Montano, left, sings along with Linda Ronstadt songs and David Merril knits, both of them on a scissor lift, outside Site Santa Fe Friday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Linda Montano, left, sings along with Linda Ronstadt songs and David Merril knits, both of them on a scissor lift, outside Site Santa Fe Friday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
A wisp of a woman, her brown wig covering a froth of silver, rose slowly from a lift belting out Linda Ronstadt songs through a white bullhorn Friday.

It’s 32 degrees in Santa Fe, as a veil of snowflakes spirals to the ground. The woman is 71 years old and wearing a brown cowboy outfit with purple gloves atop as she attempts “When Will I Be Loved,” her phrasing at times careening into a screech.
And this was near the start of several hours of Montano doing Ronstadt.
Call it corner karaoke, but really long.
Linda Mary Montano calls it art.
From the epicenter of California performance art, Montano has dressed as a chicken in a blue prom dress on the streets of San Francisco. She handcuffed herself to fellow artist Tom Maroni for three days. She once bought a thrift store nurse’s uniform, telling friends she would make house calls when they were sick, offering chicken soup and hand-holding.
In 1972, the chicken dance landed her in the arms of the suicide prevention squad when she performed it atop the Golden Gate Bridge.
“I was picked up and told there was traffic stopped for five miles on each side and if anybody got hurt I would be liable,” she said. “I thought art was without consequence.”
Performance artist Linda Montano belts it out along with recorded Linda Ronstadt songs outside Site Santa Fe in cold and snow on Friday. (Eddie MOore/Journal)
Performance artist Linda Montano belts it out along with recorded Linda Ronstadt songs outside Site Santa Fe in cold and snow on Friday. (Eddie MOore/Journal)
“Always Creative,” Montano’s exhibition/installation at SITE Santa Fe, opened Friday. The show features photographs, video and color-coded piles of her clothing mirroring each of the seven chakras. The artist will also conduct what she calls “art/life counseling”by Skype on March 22 and on April 19. Call 505-989-1199 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 505-989-1199 FREE end_of_the_skype_highlighting to schedule a session.
Friday found Montano ascending hour by hour on the scissor lift in front of the SITE building at 1606 Paseo de Peralta, singing along with a taped Ronstadt. The event was scheduled for noon to 7 p.m. in an endurance piece she calls “Singing My Heart Out.”
SITE preparator David Merrill accompanied her by knitting a 14-foot line of orange yarn.
By late afternoon, Montano had moved inside to continue the marathon, because of the cold weather.
The Santa Fe exhibit marks one of many times Montano has created a persona. When she was diagnosed with dystonia, a neurological disorder affecting her neck, she turned it into art. The resulting stooped posture –– coupled with her strict Catholic upbringing––made her think of Mother Teresa.
“When it was bad, I said, ‘I feel like Mother Teresa, scrunching over and lined,’ so I said, ‘New persona’!”
Life regularly improvises itself into her art.
The Ronstadt performance hearkens back to her 1978 video piece “Mitchell’s Death,” in which she mourns the death of her murdered husband while acupuncture needles jut from her face.
“I listened to her in ‘75-’76 when I was living in California,” Montano said. “She was my voice. I’m a closet singer. Singing along with her made me feel better than me. It was therapy for me.”
As far as the artist knows, Ronstadt knows nothing of her appropriation.
Street reaction to Montano’s signing early in the day ranged from those who bopped to the beat to giggles and to those who chose to sing along to the provided lyrics.
“Art comes with intention,” Santa Fe performance artist Red Cell said as he watched.“I think nearly anything can be viewed as art. She’s one of the best living performance artists. At first, it seems humorous, but as you stick with them through it, it shifts and changes.”
“She’s not off-key…yet,” he added. “That’s why I want to come back in six hours. It’s a test of endurance.”
“This is a lot of her personal history,” fellow artist and onlooker J.C. Gonzo said. “She’s done incredibly important work for performance art for four decades.”
Bob Dylan and Saint Teresa
At Manhattan’s New Museum, Montano offered monthly art/life counseling in a building window installation from 1984-1991. In the ‘80s, she used tarot cards, palm and psychic readings. Today she has returned to her original Catholicism. She has created several videos exploring that faith, including “Father Lebar: Catholic Priest and Exorcist;” and “Saint Teresa of Avila,” as well as three-hour lip-syncing endurances as Bob Dylan.
Performance art releases her from what she calls the “everyday mind,” she said.
“It could be anything; I could be washing dishes for seven hours; it’s meditation.
“I hope it kills anything in the way of holding onto ego or mental and spiritual limitations,” she explained. “Yes, I hope it kills me.”
“I’m at this place where I do not feel special,” she said. “I think artists are trained to be special.”
As a young girl, Montano wanted to be a priest. She joined the Maryknoll Sisters after a year in college. She emerged weighing 80 pounds, thanks to an eating disorder. The latter resulted in the 1981 video “Anorexia Nervosa.”
Although Montano’s College of New Rochelle degree is in sculpture, she devoted herself to performance art beginning in 1971. She moved to San Francisco with her husband, photographer Mitchell Payne, in 1970. She continued her art/theology dialogue by living in a Zen monastery for three years and an ashram in the 1980s. Today she lives in Saugerties, N.Y.
“I’m an artist, so everything I say is art is art,” she insisted. “Artists have permission via Duchamp and John Cage and Gertrude Stein.”
Montano will return to SITE on April 19 to perform “Singing My Heart In,” songs by Raka Mukerjee, encouraging audience participation, descending once an hour for seven hours.


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