Performance Art

Performance Art Collage
Started: Origins in 1910s, Movement in 1960s
Main
The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.
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Allan Kaprow Signature
The history of performance art is integral to the history of art. It has changed the shape and direction of art history over the last 100 years, and it's time that its extensive influence is properly understood. Throughout art history, performance (think Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, early Rauschenberg, or Vito Acconci) has been the starting point for some of the most radical ideas that have changed the way we - artists and audiences - think about art... Whenever a certain school, be it Cubism, Minimalism, or conceptual art, seemed to have reached an impasse, artists have turned to performance as a way of breaking down categories and indicating new directions.
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RoseLee Goldberg
The body is the physical agent of the structures of everyday experience. It is the producer of dreams, the transmitter and receiver of cultural messages, a creature of habits, a desiring machine, a repository of memories, an actor in the theater of power, a tissue of affects and feelings. Because the body is at the boundary between biology and society, between drives and discourse, between the sexual and its categorization in terms of power, biography and history, it is the site par excellence for transgressing the constraints of meaning or what social discourse prescribes as normal.
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Nelly Richard
If you share your life on the performance art stage, you put yourself in a position to be seriously judged as a good person or bad person. At times I was worshiped as a goddess-- art lovers lavished me with gifts, shared their beautiful tears, gave me their blessings, sprinkled me with their love and adoration. At other times I was hated-- protested against, screamed at, threatened with arrest, consistently censored, stalked, and I even had my life threatened. On stage I simply shared who I was, which happens to be a lot of things that a lot of people love to judge and to hate; an ex-prostitute, a pornographer, a witch, a Jew, a lesbian, a feminist, and yes... a performance artist. Interestingly, the people who expressed the most hatred never met me or saw my work.
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Annie Sprinkle

Summary of Performance Art

Performance is a genre in which art is presented "live," usually by the artist but sometimes with collaborators or performers. It has had a role in avant-garde art throughout the 20th century, playing an important part in anarchic movements such as Futurism and Dada. Indeed, whenever artists have become discontented with conventional forms of art, such as painting and traditional modes of sculpture, they have often turned to performance as a means to rejuvenate their work. The most significant flourishing of performance art took place following the decline of modernism and Abstract Expressionism in the 1960s, and it found exponents across the world. Performance art of this period was particularly focused on the body, and is often referred to as Body art. This reflects the period's so-called "dematerialization of the art object," and the flight from traditional media. It also reflects the political ferment of the time: the rise of feminism, which encouraged thought about the division between the personal and political and anti-war activism, which supplied models for politicized art "actions." Although the concerns of performance artists have changed since the 1960s, the genre has remained a constant presence, and has largely been welcomed into the conventional museums and galleries from which it was once excluded.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

Key Artists

Overview of Performance Art

Yoko Ono at an unveiling of a plaque in memory of John Lennon (2010)

Yoko Ono said, “I thought art was a verb, rather than a noun,” and embodied the concept in her Cut Piece (1964) – pioneering Performance Art – where, holding a pair of scissors and kneeling on stage, she invited the audience to cut away pieces of her clothing.

Important Art and Artists of Performance Art

Yves Klein: The Anthropometries of the Blue Period (1958)

The Anthropometries of the Blue Period (1958)

Artist: Yves Klein

Although painting sat at the center of Yves Klein's practice, his approach to it was highly unconventional, and some critics have seen him as the paradigmatic neo-avant-garde artist of the post-war years. He initially became famous for monochromes - in particular for monochromes made with an intense shade of blue that Klein eventually patented. But he was also interested in Conceptual art and performance. For the Anthropometries, he painted actresses in blue paint and had them slather about on the floor to create body-shaped forms. In some cases, Klein made finished paintings from these actions; at other times he simply performed the stunt in front of finely dressed gallery audiences, and often with the accompaniment of chamber music. By removing all barriers between the human and the painting, Klein said, "[the models] became living brushes...at my direction the flesh itself applied the color to the surface and with perfect exactness." It has been suggested that the pictures were inspired by marks left on the ground in Hiroshima and Nagasaki following the atomic explosions in 1945.

Yoko Ono: Cut Piece (1964)

Cut Piece (1964)

Artist: Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, first performed in 1964, was a direct invitation to an audience to participate in an unveiling of the female body much as artists had been doing throughout history. By creating this piece as a live experience, Ono hoped to erase the neutrality and anonymity typically associated with society’s objectification of women in art. For the work, Ono sat silent upon a stage as viewers walked up to her and cut away her clothing with a pair of scissors. This forced people to take responsibility for their voyeurism and to reflect upon how even passive witnessing could potentially harm the subject of perception. It was not only a strong feminist statement about the dangers of objectification, but became an opportunity for both artist and audience members to fill roles as both creator and artwork.

Chris Burden: Shoot (1971)

Shoot (1971)

Artist: Chris Burden

In many of his early 1970s performance pieces, Burden put himself in danger, thus placing the viewer in a difficult position, caught between a humanitarian instinct to intervene and the taboo against touching and interacting with art pieces. To perform Shoot, Burden stood in front of a wall while one friend shot him in the arm with a .22 long rifle, and another friend documented the event with a camera. It was performed in front of a small, private audience. One of Burden's most notorious and violent performances, it touches on the idea of martyrdom, and the notion that the artist may play a role in society as a kind of scapegoat. It might also speak to issues of gun control and, in the context of the period, the Vietnam War.

Useful Resources on Performance Art

Content compiled and written by Anne Marie Butler

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Performance Art Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Anne Marie Butler
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 22 Jan 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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