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Performance Art Artworks

Performance Art Collage

Started: Origins in 1910s, Movement in 1960s

Artworks and Artists of Performance Art

The below artworks are the most important in Performance Art - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Performance Art. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

The Anthropometries of the Blue Period (1958)

By: 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 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.

Cut Piece (1964)

By: 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.

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Shoot (1971)

By: 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.

Seedbed (1972)

By: Vito Acconci

In Seedbed, 1972 Vito Acconci laid underneath a custom made ramp that extended from two feet up one wall of the Sonnabend Gallery and sloped down to the middle of the floor. For eight hours a day during the course of the exhibition, Acconci laid underneath the ramp masturbating as guest’s walked above his hidden niche. As he performed this illicit act he would utter fantasies and obscenities toward the gallery guests into a microphone, which became audibly piped out through the room for all to hear.

The piece placed Acconci in a position that was both public and private. It also created a provocative intimacy between artist and audience that produced multiple levels of feeling. Participants were prone to shock, discomfort, or perhaps even arousal. By positioning himself in two roles, both as giver and receiver of pleasure, Acconci furthered body art’s dictum of artist and artwork merging as one. He also used his sperm as a medium within the piece.

Rhythm 10 (1973)

By: Marina Abramović

In Rhythm 10, Abramović uses a series of 20 knives to quickly stab at the spaces between her outstretched fingers. Every time she pierces her skin, she selects another knife from those carefully laid out in front of her. Halfway through, she begins playing a recording of the first half of the hour-long performance, using the rhythmic beat of the knives striking the floor, and her hand, to repeat the same movements, cutting herself at the same time. This piece exemplifies Abramović's use of ritual in her work, and demonstrates what the artist describes as the synchronicity between the mistakes of the past and those of the present.

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Coyote: I Like America and America Likes Me (1974)

By: Joseph Beuys

For three consecutive days in May, 1974, Beuys enclosed himself in a gallery with a wild coyote. Having previously announced that he would not enter the United States while the Vietnam War proceeded, this piece was his first and only action in America, and Beuys was ferried between the airport and the gallery in an ambulance to ensure that his feet did not have to touch American soil. Coyote centered on ideas of America wild and tamed. In an attempt to connect with an idea of wild, pre-colonial America, Beuys lived with a coyote for several days, attempting to communicate with it. He organized a sequence of interactions that would repeat for the duration of the piece, such as cloaking himself in felt and using a cane as a "lightening rod," and following the coyote around the room, bent at the waist and keeping the cane pointed at the coyote. Copies of The Wall Street Journal arrived daily, and were used as a toilet by the coyote, as if to say, "everything that claims to be a part of America is part of my territory."

Interior Scroll (1975)

By: Carolee Schneemann

Carolee Schneemann, who defines herself as a multi-disciplinary artist, working across a variety of media, first made an impact in the context of feminist art. Interior Scroll is one of her most famous works. To stage it, she smeared her nude body with paint, mounted a table, and began adopting some of the typical poses that models strike for artists in life class. Then she proceeded to extract a long coil of paper from her vagina, and began to read the text written on it. It was once thought that the text derived from her response to a male filmmaker's critique of her films (some of her most notable films of the time included imagery of the Vietnam War, and documentation of a performance entitled Meat Joy, involving nude bodies writhing about in meat). The filmmaker had apparently commented on her penchant for "personal clutter...persistence of feelings...[and] primitive techniques" - in effect, qualities that were deemed "feminine." But Schneemann has since said that the text came from a letter sent to a female art critic who found her films hard to watch. By using her physical body as both a site of performance and as the source for a text, Schneemann refused the fetishization of the genitals.

Art/Life: One Year Performance (a.k.a. Rope Piece) (4 July 1983 - 3 July 1984)

By: Linda Montano and Tehching Hsieh

For the length of this year long endurance piece, Montano and Hsieh were bound to each other by an 8-foot piece of rope. They existed in the same space, but never touched. In Hsieh's original idea, the rope represented the struggle of humans with one another and their problems with social and physical connection. As the work evolved, the rope took on more meanings. It controlled, yet expanded the patterns of both of the artists' lives, becoming a visual symbol of the relationship between two people. The 365-day length of the work was critical, as it heightened the piece from performance to life. Life and art could not be separated within a work where living was the art. Hsieh explained that if the piece was only one or two weeks, it would be more like a performance, but a year, "has real experience of time and life."

Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit Buenos Aires (1992)

By: Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Pena

Dressed in ridiculous costume, engaged in stereotypical "native" tasks and enclosed in a cage, Fusco and Gomez-Pena addressed the practice of human displays, and fetishization of the "other." Fusco wore several different looks, including hair braids, a grass skirt and a leopard skin bra, while Gomez-Pena sported an Aztec style breastplate. The two ate bananas, performed "native dances" and other "traditional rituals" and were led to the bathroom by museum guards on leashes. The piece was first performed at Columbus Plaza, Madrid, Spain, as a part of the Edge '92 Biennial, which was organized in commemoration of Columbus's voyage to the New World. It was intended as a satirical comedy, yet half of the viewers thought that the fictitious Amerindian specimens were real.

Related Movements and Major Works

Reciting the Sound Poem "Karawane" (1916)

Reciting the Sound Poem "Karawane" (1916)

Movement: Dada (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Hugo Ball (Read Full Artist Overview, and Artworks pages)

Ball designed this costume for his performance of the sound-poem, "Karawane," in which nonsensical syllables uttered in patterns created rhythm and emotion, but nothing resembling any known language. The resulting lack of sense was meant to reference the inability of European powers to solve their diplomatic problems through the use of rational discussion, thus leading to World War I - equating the political situation to the biblical episode of the Tower of Babel. Ball's strange costume is meant to further distance him from his audience and his everyday surroundings, making his speech even more foreign and exotic. Ball described his costume: "My legs were in a cylinder of shiny blue cardboard, which came up to my hips so that I looked like an obelisk. Over it I wore a huge coat cut out of cardboard, scarlet inside and gold outside. It was fastened at the neck in such a way that I could give the impression of wing-like movement by raising and lowering my elbows. I also wore a high, blue-and-white-striped witch doctor's hat."

Yard (1961)

Movement: Happenings (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Allan Kaprow (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Yard by Kaprow involved the random scattering and piling of tires over the floor and an invitation to visitors to climb over them. This piece was supposedly in response to Jackson Pollock's "drip" paintings: the incorporation of chance as a mainstay of the work, but with a certain amount of control left to the artist. Just as Pollock had a certain amount of power over his drip paintings, aesthetics were still very much subject to chance. Here Kaprow used the tires as Pollock used his paint. The result- a haphazard pile of tires nevertheless circumscribed into a semblance of compositional order- is a three-dimensional translation of Pollock's practice. Kaprow's pieces often involved materials from everyday life, including people; Kaprow stated, "Life is much more interesting than art." Yard, like many Happenings, has been recreated several times since Kaprow's initial installation, and each time a unique artwork is produced.

Womanhouse (1972)

Womanhouse (1972)

Movement: Feminist Art (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro

The installation Womanhouse encompassed an entire house in residential Hollywood organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro as the culmination of the Feminist Art Program (FAP) at California Institute for the Arts in 1972. The twenty-one all-female students first renovated the house, which had been previously marked for demolition, then installed site-specific art environments within the interior spaces that ranged from the sculptural figure of a woman trapped within a linen closet to the kitchen where walls and ceiling were covered with fried eggs that morphed into breasts. Many of the artists also created performances that took place within Womanhouse to further address the relationship between women and the home.

The entire collaborative piece was about a woman's reclaiming of domestic space from one in which she was positioned as merely a wife and mother to one in which she was seen as a fully expressive being unconfined by gender assignment. This challenged traditional female roles and gave women a new realm to present their views within a thoroughly integrated context of art and life.

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