The Case for Performance Art | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

May 6, 2019

you're minding your own business in an art gallery when all of a sudden a movement occurs out of the corner of your eye it couldn't be you break into a cold sweat and look around for the nearest exit but it's too late it's happening it's performance art why why has my precious fourth wall been violated why must I be forced to endure this inevitable awkwardness this is the case for performance art performance art is a term used to describe art in which the body is the medium or live action is in some way involved this is nothing new of course human beings have always performed in front of each other through ritual storytelling dance carnival and on and on but as art evolved the word became known for describing specific things mainly objects like painting sculpture and drawing live-action belonged to other disciplines like theater and ballet and opera but during the course of the 20th century artists began to incorporate live-action into works and described it as art the Italian futurists in the 19-teens saw performance as the only way to reach a mass audience staging noise concerts and a kind of disruptive variety theater aimed at destroying quote the solemn the sacred the serious and the sublime in art with a capital A think artists are kind of nuts well the futurist wanted you to think that arguing the name of madman with which it is attempted to gag all innovators should be looked upon as a title of honor Dada artists embraced the crazy as well and built off the popularity of Cabaret in post-world War one Germany artist Hugo ball and Emmy Hennings opened Cafe Voltaire in 1916 and Zurich and invited artists and writers to come give musical performances and readings of all kinds no one knew what might happen on any given night it could be like this or it could be like this during the Weimar years the Bauhaus was the first institution to offer a specific performance class reinforcing it as a medium in its own right avant-garde theater flourished across Europe an early surrealist Antonin Artaud theorized what he called the theater of Cruelty proposing a direct communication between the spectator and the spectacle engulfing the spectator into the action writing we abolished the stage and the auditorium and replace them by a single site without partition or barrier of any kind which will become the theater of the action after World War 2 Black Mountain College in the u.s. became a hotbed of experimental interdisciplinary practice with avant-garde composer John Cage teaching classes and staging collaborative productions they put on a version of erik satie's surreal the ruse of medusa featuring Merce Cunningham as mechanical monkey Buckminster Fuller as nonsensical Baron and sets by Willem and Elaine de Kooning Cage shared with his students his understanding of music as it relates to Zen Buddhism that art should not be separate from life but in action within life with all of the accidents and chaos and occasional beauty that that entails participants in his productions were given loose scores that left a lot to interpretation had unpredictable results and were impossible to reproduce choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham's revolutionary approach also shared a black mountain– proposed that such ordinary movements as walking and standing could be considered dance the boom of abstract expressionist painting in the 1950s emphasized the body's involvement in making art it's obvious but easy to forget when you're looking at say a landscape that every painting is a document of a series of actions that took place in the past but with works like Jackson Pollock's it becomes harder to ignore with art critic Harold Rosenberg explaining the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event the Katai group in Japan took these ideas a step further in front of audiences Kazuo Shraddha threw himself naked into a pile of wet mud Saburo Murakami crashed through a row of paper screens Tanaka Atsuko donned her electric dress back in Europe Yves Klein embarked on a series for which he hired female models to cover themselves in paint and make imprints of their bodies on paper instead of walking through a room and glimpsing these things that happen in the past here it is in the room with you happening right now The Godfather of The Happening Allan Capra staged his first in 1959 at Rubin Gallery stating on the invitation you will become part of the happenings you will simultaneously experience them guests arrive with little idea of what would happen both witness to and participant in loosely structured actions left to make of it what they could Caporal called it what he did because it was quote something spontaneous something that just happens to happen artists associated with the Fluxus movement presented ordinary events as art considering anyone and everyone to be an artist at a 1962 flexus festival Ben Patterson performed variations for contrabass where he agitated its strings using a variety of unusual materials Nam June Paik dipped his necktie and head and paint and drew a line along a 13 foot roll of paper Alison Knowles made a big salad and shared it much of it was playful but for others it was dead serious joseph boys gave lectures and staged dramatic actions enacting what he called social sculpture to try to change consciousness believing art can and should transform your everyday life in vienna a group of artists pursued what they called action ISM calling it not only a form of art but above all an existential attitude Herrmann niche enacted ancient rites which he described as an aesthetic way of praying and volley expore invited the public to reach into a curtain box to touch her unclothed body a humorous but in dining action questioning the objectification of women's bodies performance came into its own in the turbulent 60s and 70s the civil rights movement and second wave feminism underlined the fact that the body is political and artists seized on its potential Carolee schneemann explained in 1963 to use my body as an extension of my painting constructions was to challenge and threaten the psychic territorial power lines by which women were admitted to the art stud club through performance female bodies and black bodies and queer bodies and bodies that bring together multiple identities could be reclaimed reasserted and represented through many lenses not just by white men this time but by the actual persons in question the minimalist were interested in phenomenology or the study of consciousness from particular points of view and so we're performance artists inserting live bodies into artworks was an immediate way to unsettle the delusion that a universal perspective exists insisting that every body is a self inscribed events language history and identity and is always in perpetual flux these selves did lots of things they became part of paintings they wore paintings they positioned themselves in space and in nature they positioned others in space they performed tasks and they asked others to perform tasks they made constructions specifically to hold their bodies they followed strangers they took on other identities they asked questions they created stores they subjected themselves to danger they tested their endurance they turned the audience into the performer the completely merged art in life they explored desire and drogyny sexuality exotic ism and the burden of art historical representation since the 70s performance art has been a relatively constant fixture in the world of art used internationally to examine a wide range of issues it's been documented and exhibited but is largely resistant to commercial forces offering artists a way to make work outside of the often oppressive market system performance today is so many different things it's calop Lindsay's singing as his alter ego the melodramatic Sean tous Taiwan whom he later declared dead its allure incasa Diaz Olympic gymnast performing choreographed routines on wooden replicas of airline seats at the Venice Biennale it's Ryan McNamara being taught to dance in public it's Kate Gilmore is bright pink house with women in white dresses swinging from its windows it's Bennett Miller's dachshund UN it's Ragnar Johnson's bliss a 12 hour performance of the last minutes of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro over and over again and it's still the classic stuff like Marina Abramovic wildly popular the artist is present where the audience was invited to cue up and eventually face off with the artist it should come as no surprise when jay-z inspired by Abramovich's work called his music video a performance art film arguing concerts are pretty much performance art with the venue's changed performance art was born of interdisciplinary thinking and still thrives in those spaces in between think Art's a scam masterminded by the rich and ridiculous will still have a lot of artists who have used performance as a strategy to deliberately offend a band tradition and remake art from the inside performance art was born of a desire to flatten hierarchies inherent in traditional art forms so that the artist could reach an audience directly rather than through coded forms or the separation of a canvas frame it wasn't so much that people wanted to make something called performance art but more that these activities seeped out from other disciplines where they no longer quite fit in as with any art it's up to you to decide whether or not you think it's any good but the way into performance is to allow yourself to be made uncomfortable by it to admit your feelings of suspicion fear dislike or claustrophobia performance art can give you room to think about who you are where you are and how you relate to those who are not you it can allow us to contemplate the rules written and unwritten of any given space or place performance can make you uncomfortable because that's what it's supposed to do it's designed to do don't leave the room stay be uncomfortable revel in the mystery of what may or may not occur think about why you're feeling the way you're feeling invite the discomfort invite the unknown you an artist and art will be better for it

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  • Reply WEE WILLY May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Art should not be like flying through an asteroid belt. Which supreme commander in chief selects space cadets among us to perform (or guide us though) these treacherous missions, and why? The skeptical and paranoid among us may suspect it is for no more than clearing out the main decks of the more reckless in our midst. What better role for those with such natural dispositions, than jobs as crash test dummy and guinea pigs? And as to those stuck in the back seat or worse stuffed among the cargo and baggage, surely one thing that repeatedly comes to our mind is "are we there yet?"

  • Reply Elise May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    "they followed strangers" thats creepy Vito

  • Reply Weird Guy May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    I get it, but I still think it’s ineffective

  • Reply 123rockfan May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Okay this narrator seriously needs to talk a regular person. Fabulous content though

  • Reply L May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    So is Fluxus considered performance art too?

  • Reply James Ashford May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    You forgot to show the pooping experience where people poop in public with see-through mirrors that only they could see out

  • Reply Morgan Glines May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    "A performance art video" isn't a thing, you jackass. A video can be art, but performance art is inherently ephemeral, and it's the point.

  • Reply Timothy Lee May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Feminism by definition divides humanity into separate groups, which is bad for society and bad for art. Art is about expressing individual feelings and emotions. When the artist see themselves as representing a group it becomes political, intellectualizing the message, narrowing the audience. Making art should be encouraged by everyone for everyone.

  • Reply John Greer May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Does anyone know what the title of the image of the gallery full of paintings is at 0:34?

  • Reply Billie Posters May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm


  • Reply Billie Posters May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm


  • Reply Pedro Espinoza Hurtado May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    wonderful channel! My opinion…since I studied at in my country I had a point of view on performance concepts I think after watched this well done video remains the same I only see: Catharsis (from Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning "purification" or "cleansing") is the purification and purgation of emotions—particularly pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration. It is a metaphor originally used by Aristotle in the Poetics, comparing the effects of tragedy on the mind of a spectator to the effect of a cathartic on the body.

  • Reply Camila Galan May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    I didn't really understand the difference between performance art and theater or flexux, do they have scripts?

  • Reply NeverKnows Best May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm


  • Reply Filippo Stoppa May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm


  • Reply Paula White May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    For people who are part of a belief tradition that teach modesty where the human body is concerned, watching performance art that contained nudity would be uncomfortable. I'm part of a religious organization that teaches that modesty is a way of honoring the sacredness of the physical body. It isn't just a matter of feeling uncomfortable by nudity, it's that nudity in the public place is against one's religious beliefs.

  • Reply Samrat B May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    missed the circus .. that too is art and way ahead {now deemed by hipsters as cruel and old fashioned} of performance art… Check out Charlotte Moorman for performance art breaking barriers …

  • Reply Agustina Enrique May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    you guys should make a bauhaus video!!!

  • Reply Bulldog Madhav May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    another underrated performance art in music is when bands such as The Who ended their concerts by destroying their instruments .

  • Reply burpingcricket May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    For me it comes down to consent. Especially if you are living with mental illness you need the option to opt out or choose not to be put in a triggering situation at all. I feel that performance art sometimes violates audiences trust in the name of art. Scaring away those for whom leaving the house and engaging with the world was enough of a challenge.
    I don’t think performance art is alone in doing this at all but I think it’s more frequent than in some other more “passive” art-forms. I’m not saying you can’t make uncomfortable performance art but put out warnings about it just like you would if a light art peace could provoke epidemic fits or if a smoke machine could cause asthma.

  • Reply graciela cantele May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Love it

  • Reply Sahara L May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    i agree with kyle can gogh's comment especially in reference to the commercialisation of art. i also enjoyed the conclusion at the end of the video

  • Reply L Antonio Nájera May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Sin embargo existe una falencia en sostener que una 'performance' pueda hacerse sin una estructura o una gramática visual. El "discurso" en el que se basa una obra es signo de que la obra es insuficiente para exponer una experiencia o comunicar algo.

  • Reply Benny F May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Performance art is the definition of narcissism.

  • Reply EWKification May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Performance art is radical art but milquetoast theater.

  • Reply Efthymia Bissias May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Found it!

  • Reply Devin du Plessis May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Performance art, in many people’s consciousness, collapses the concept of art and is thus anti-art and should thus not be called performance art but performance protestation. THAT is the problem with a lot of contemporary art, it is more visual philosophy than art.

    Love these vids 👌🏿

  • Reply art_harshit May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    1:52 the guy looks like T-1000 from Terminator 2

  • Reply Jo Von May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    What is supposed to be the differents between theater and "performancer art" ???

  • Reply reuben yebra May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    You have got to slow the down the tempo of the video presentation it's too fast slow down seriously

  • Reply Bethany Eschen-Pipes May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    So, what's the difference between Performance Art and Street Theater? I think the reason people are mad is because of a feeling towards mislabeling.

  • Reply Mr Scopophiliac May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

  • Reply DASHAUN CARNEY May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Would professional wrestling be considered performance art?

  • Reply Jackpatkinson4 May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Hugo Ball was so influential, the Talking Heads made a song using his poetry which laid the groundwork for their album Remain in Light

  • Reply Genaline Cabije May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Well researched & well scripted…

  • Reply Fer Cortés May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Very informative. Even though I'm not a fan of performance art

  • Reply Sleepndraw May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    There's so much info on these videos that i spend hours pausing them so i can investigate all pieces and artists, i wanna go to sleep but i can't. I thank you for the existance of this channel

  • Reply Chacosseke May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    this only fueled my desire to shit on the floor in an art museum

  • Reply Zoneling May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    They are performance artists… they're paid to fulfil peoples fantasies, their deep dark fantasies.

  • Reply Vanessa Walters May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm


    These videos are the dream.

  • Reply Berder King May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Bauhaus, Cabaret Voltare ?

  • Reply makerstudios May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, do performance art.

  • Reply P D May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    I'm so glad this was in my recommended videos list. You've just got yourself a new subscriber

  • Reply Isabella Bornberg May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    This helps me a lot, thank you

  • Reply Wellington Boobs May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    @ 0:53 — what was Graham Chapman doing being alive back then? (middle guy)

  • Reply Eva-Luna Tholance May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Cool fact about my life: I was a part of Tino Sehgal's "This Progress" in Paris last october to december. Best experience of my life by far.

  • Reply John Appleseed May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    This video was so good! Thank you so much, very well said 🙂

  • Reply coin May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    it's us against them, they don't know shit about art that's why it's disturbing.

  • Reply Tom Servo May 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    5:40 , 'not just by white men' … what does that mean?

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