Harvey Bott’s ROBOTT™ Opera Comes to the Orange Show in December

by Brandon Zech November 28, 2023

Next month, on Sunday, December 17, the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art in Houston will present the Harvey Bott ROBOTT™ Opera Revisited, an updated take on the iconic performance the eponymous artist presented in the late 1970s and early 80s. The opera will come on the heels of a two-day workshop, on December 16 and 17, during which participants from the community will build new robot actor-singers, collaborate to restore Art Barf, one of Mr. Bott’s original robots from the 80s, and also write and choreograph a new iteration of the performance.

A poster for Harvey Bott's Robot Opera Revisited.

The Harvey Bott ROBOTT™ Opera Revisited

Besides Art Barf and Re-FORMATt, a robot that has been newly built by workshop director Matt Fries, 20 additional robots built by participants will perform in the opera. Ten slots in the workshop are open to individuals or teams at a cost $300 per spot, and ten are open to school-aged robot builders at no cost; it is the Orange Show’s intention that these spots go to students who would otherwise be unable to participate in the event.

Mr. Bott’s prior performances of the opera were held at various venues, including some at his then-studio space in Houston and one in 1983 at the University of St. Thomas. Legend has it that this performance, though receiving robust publicity, was included in an end-of-the-year column by a Houston art critic as the worst art event of that year.

Pete Gershon, the Orange Show’s Curator of Programs, who is organizing the revisited opera, describes the robots in the performance as “anti-corporatist robots from the future” that are returning to their current moment to warn of forthcoming dangers. In Mr. Bott’s original performances, well-known Houston art world figures like historian David Brauer, gallerist Betty Moody, and curator Clint Willour voiced the robots, recording their characters’ ravings onto cassette tape. And while it is called an opera, the performance does not necessarily include singing — Mr. Gershon characterizes it as more of a monologue or rant (or, rather, multiple monologues happening at once), and laughed as he noted that the experience could be cathartic for participants.

The reinvigoration of the opera was inspired by Houston writer (and Glasstire founder) Rainey Knudson’s gift of Art Barf to the Orange Show. This robot, which in its original performances was voiced to be an art critic and is described on Mr. Bott’s website as the “Don Rickles” of the Houston art scene of the early 1980s,” will be a major feature of the revisited opera. The December 17 performance will feature projected videos, live music by Tony Barilla and Erin Rodgers, and choreography by T. Lavois Thiebaud.

A green anthropomorphic robot.

Harvey Bott, “Art Barf,” 1980, mixed media-full VA audio,
25 x 15 x 28 inches

In an email, Mr. Gershon noted that Mr. Bott’s original opera performances “were unifying events for Houston’s art community back in their day and our update will be too.”

The Harvey Bott ROBOTT™ Opera Revisited is scheduled for 4-5:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 17 at the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art in Houston. Tickets are available here. Additionally, the organization is still seeking workshop participants to build robots and perform in the opera. Individuals and teams can register here; students can register here.


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Dan M. Allison November 28, 2023 - 10:06

Can’t wait!

Rainey Knudson November 28, 2023 - 11:03

Harvey did a ROBOTT birthday party for my brother when we were young kids, and Art Barf was my favorite, naturally because he said the word “barf.” (Learning this, Harvey gave me an “autographed” photo of Art Barf that said: “TO RAINEY, WITH GOOPY, BARFY AFFECTION. ART BARF”. Which I hope I still have in a box of childhood stuff somewhere.) Many years later I became the happy caretaker of Art Barf for some time, and it was then that I learned that he was an art critic who thought everything was barfy–which was very coming-full-circleish, given that I myself had become an art critic. I’m so glad the O-Show has taken ownership of this wonderful piece of Houston art history and will restore him to his full glory. Go Harvey! Go Art Barf!


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