"The best thing about the term 'performance artist' is that it includes just about everything you might want to do." - Laurie Anderson
Performance Art can range from awe-inspiring to boring to straight up cray, y'all. If anyone knows of Vito Acconci's Seedbed or Carolee Schneemann's Interior Scroll, you probably agree with me (if you aren't familiar with these two works, you do not want to google them... you've been warned).
But the cool thing about Performance Art is that it's one of the most unique forms of artwork in all of art history. It's fleeting, temporary, unpredictable, it can never be repeated in the exact same way, and without us - the audience - the work truly does not exist.
Sure we could argue that many of these performances are photographed or recorded, so they're really not fleeting or temporary and the photos or videos become the artwork... but that's some graduate level ish, not one oh one. Although what do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments...
Unlike Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism, Performance Art is more of a term than an art movement and it's extremely open-ended. Since the 1970s it's been a popular name for art activities that involve a live audience and elements of music, dance, poetry, theater, or video. So a lot can fall under this category.
But when did it first start? In the late 1960s many artists wanted a more direct way to communicate with viewers. Painting and sculpture just wasn't cutting it. The type of Performance Art that began during this time was primarily conceptual, meaning it dealt with unusual, abstract ideas. Probably where Performance Art got the reputation of being weird. They took place in galleries or outdoor locations and lasted anywhere from a few minutes to a few days - whaaaat - and were usually only performed once.
Let's look at some examples, eh? Starting in 1969 the British art duo Gilbert and George dubbed themselves "living sculpture." They appeared as art objects in their own exhibits and on the streets of London. Here's a peek at their madness, oh I mean creative genius...
For Duet on Ice, Laurie Anderson selected four locations in New York City during the summer of 1974 and stood by herself playing classical and original compositions on a violin while wearing ice skates embedded in a block of ice. The performance wasn't over until the ice melted and the blades touched the pavement. Here's a recent re-creation of the performance:
In 1980, performance art crossed over into popular culture when Laurie Anderson's performance O Superman made the hit record charts. The following year Warner Brothers offered Anderson a six-record contract. Hmm I wonder if once an art style goes mainstream, it's no longer cool? Probs.
Cool or not, Performance Art is still happening. Unlike the other art movements from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Performance Art is alive and well. That must mean Performance artists are onto something, yes? What do you think?
Join me next time for... Earth Art!
Images (clockwise): Gilbert and George, Living Sculptures | Laurie Anderson, Duet on Ice | Trisha Brown, Man Walking Down the Side of a Building | Leslie Labowitz-Starus, Mary, Mary, How Does Your Garden Grow