Revival of Performance Art
By Heidi Lee | June 11, 2010
Everywhere you turn in the art world, it seems like you run into Performance art. We are definitely experiencing a revival with huge exhibitions on view such as Tino Sehgal’s moving acts at the Guggenheim, Aki Sasamoto’s peculiar dramas at the Whitney Biennial, and Marina Abramovic’s 700-hour meditation at the MoMA. This non-commercial, ephemeral-based art form that can not be treated as a commodity is a stark contrast to the market boom we experienced mid-decade.
Performance art has its origins in the early 20th century and is closely identified with the progress of the avant-garde, beginning with Futurism in Italy 1910. The Futurists practiced every medium of art, including painting, sculpture, graphic design, theater, film, literature, music, architecture, and even gastronomy. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti started the movement with his Futurist Manifesto in 1909, expressing a passionate loathing for everything old, especially political and artistic tradition, hence the focus on the future. Futurism and its emphasis on youth, speed, and technology remains a significant pillar of Western culture and Modern art.
Performance art resurfaced in smatterings after that with Picasso’s Parade ballet in 1916 and again in 1919 with the Bauhaus movement. It became more common in the 1960s, the first sign being Jackson Pollack’s drip paintings that earned him the moniker “Jack the Dripper” and with John Cage. Cage was one of the leading figures of post-war avant-garde and critics lauded him as one of the most influential American composers of the 20th-century (see John Cage’s seminal piece 4 minute 33 seconds).
Other artists who became closely associated with Performance art include Yves Klein, Allan Kaprow, Carolee Schneemann, and Joseph Beuys. Their art was meant to challenge the audience to think in new and unconventional ways about theater and performing and break traditions in art. It could be scripted, non scripted, improvisational and incorporate dance, song or complete silence.
RoseLee Goldberg, founder of the Performance biennial, Performa, said, “Performance has always been an important catalyst in the history of 20th-century art [and] has been a way of appealing directly to a large public, as well as shocking audiences into reassessing their own notions of art and its relation to culture.”
(image: Yves Klein, Le Saut dans le Vide (Leap into the Void), Paris, 1960)