International; late 1960s
Performance has its roots in the staging of deliberately provocative public events by Futurist and Dada artists in the early 20th century. These actions are often regarded as the origins of the Happenings and Fluxus events of the 1950s, and of Yves Klein’s Anthropometries—paintings composed by the “living brushes” of nude women covered in blue paint. By the early 1970s performance had evolved into a primary rather than adjunct means of expression for artists to convey their dissatisfaction with the commercial gallery system and the commodification of the art object. By eliminating the object, performance was thought to facilitate direct communication between artist and viewer. Its increased popularity in America during the late 1960s and early 1970s also coincided with the emancipation of the individual from obsolete moral and social conventions. Feminist artists seeking alternatives to the male dominated realms of painting and sculpture at this time embraced performance as a vehicle to celebrate their essential, biological differences as well as to express their outrage at the gender inequity prevalent in this country. The manifestations of performance continue to be international and vary widely in theme, encompassing under the same rubric the shamanstic and sadomasochistic body art of Viennese Actionism; the seemingly playful “living sculptures” of Gilbert & George; Laurie Anderson’s experimentation with multimedia technologies in the 1970s and 1980s; and the monologic social criticism of Eric Bogosian. The category is notoriously vague, and no set rules easily circumscribe it. Broadly speaking, the term connotes art that employs a combination of movement, theater, cinema, music, and/or other forms of public expression, sometimes in tandem with plastic media, so as to act out concepts before an audience in a usually choreographed fashion. Other artists associated with performance include Marina Abramovic, Vito Acconci, Joseph Beuys, Chris Burden, Rebecca Horn, Ana Mendieta, Bruce Nauman, Dennis Oppenheim, Gina Pane, and Hannah Wilke.
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