Performance in Photography Since 1960: An Audience of One

Matthew Barney, Drawing Restraint 9: Shimenawa, 2005

William Pope, Foraging (The Air Itself/Dark Version), 1995

Laurel Nakadate, Lucky Tiger #151, 2009

Ai Weiwei, Study of Perspective: Eiffel Tower, 1995–2003

Performance in Photography Since 1960: An Audience of One

Staging Action: Performance in Photography Since 1960 presents a wide range of images focusing on performance art that were expressly made for the artist’s camera, which was recently on exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Performance art is usually experienced live, but what documents it and ensures its enduring life is, above all, photography. Yet photography plays a constitutive role, not merely a documentary one, when the performance is staged expressly for the camera (often in the absence of an audience), and the images that result are recordings of an event but also autonomous works of art. The pictures in this exhibition exemplify the complex and varied uses artists have devised for photography in the field of performance art since the 1960s.

Many artists have experimented with the camera to test the physical and psychological limits of the body. Other artists have enlisted the camera as an accomplice in experiments with identity, suggesting the plasticity or mutability of identity itself. They have engaged the production of the self as positional rather than fixed and often played with shifting ideas of gender and/or sexual identity. The exhibition also includes both off-the-cuff and staged performative gestures of political dissent, as well as explorations of the dualities of consumerism and dispossession.

Staging Action demonstrates the complex ways in which photography, confronting us with its ability to both freeze and extend a moment in time, pushes against the grain of mere documentation to create performance art as a conceptual exercise that can be appreciated in the absence of a performing body. Often the technology of the camera is able to open up new space for performance, isolating exhibitionist, arresting, spectacular and just plain wacky moments. For every strenuous performance in this collection that challenges physical and psychological limits, there’s also a very playful one.

Viewers can read more about this exhibition in The New York Times here.

Tono Stano’s Performance Photography: Sense

Slide Show: Performance in Photography Since 1960

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

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