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December 5, 2012 7:54 PM   Subscribe

What can I read/watch/do to learn more about Performance Art?

I will soon be gaining a performance artist as a family member. Even though I am from an artistic/performing family (both of my siblings are artists, both parents are musicians), I am terribly ignorant when it comes to performance art. I am just familiar with it enough to realize how unenlightened I am.

As a way to (hopefully) connect with and understand this wonderful person better, I'd like to learn a bit more.

Are there any books about the history of performance art, accessible to a layperson? I'd be interested in theory-lite, rather than theory-free.

Who are, say, the top 3-5 most famous performance artists I should know? Sadly, I feel like Yoko Ono is the extent of my PA celeb knowledge. Unless mimes count. Then Yoko Ono and Marcel Marceau.

Are there any up-and-coming performance artists generating a lot of buzz?

If it makes a difference, her work focuses on human rights and slavery.

I'm sorry this sounds silly or daft. I am really a babe in the woods here and don't even know where to begin. If you can help set me on the path to smart about performance art, I would be super grateful.
posted by peacrow to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, I am not out to impress her with my knowledge or anything, to be clear. Frankly, I find what she does a bit intimidating/bewildering. I want to be less intimidated so I can ask her about her work/projects.
posted by peacrow at 8:00 PM on December 5, 2012

Best answer: I'd recommend watching the movie Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present. In general I find performance art to be pretty baffling and ridiculous, but this was an interesting film that shed a bit of light on the genre.
posted by dydecker at 8:09 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Tehching Hsieh- Cage piece, Time clock piece, Outdoor piece, Rope piece, No art piece, Art/life
Vito Acconci- Theme Song
Marina Abramovic- Art must be beautiful...

These are the works of performance art that have really stuck with me. Also, these three are pretty famous performance artists. Also, I second the above recc. of watching the documentary about Abramovic as a good introduction.
posted by 2ghouls at 8:31 PM on December 5, 2012

Best answer: I'd say the most well-known performance artist is currently Marina Abramovic. There's a documentary about her (currently available to watch on HBO, possibly through other means as well,) called The Artist is Present.
A smattering of others that I've found memorable over the years for one reason or another, in no particular order:
- Vito Acconci
- Chris Burden
- Several artists involved in the Fluxus movement (including Yoko Ono)
- Laurie Anderson
- Joan Jonas
- Miranda July
- William Pope.L
- Reverend Billy
- Sharon Hayes
...and actually, the Wikipedia entry on Performance Art is surprisingly easy to follow, and a decent overview to start with, at least in terms of giving you a broad familiarity in a short amount of time.
posted by D.Billy at 8:45 PM on December 5, 2012

Best answer: I love Tehching Hsieh more than words can say. There's a great book about him called Out of Now, see if you can find it!

I think it is worth asking her or someone close to her what some of her favorite performance artists are. There are as many different kinds of performance artists as painters, so it would help you to know.

Other favorites of mine--Suzanne Lacy, Chris Burden, ** Joseph Beuys **, Vaginal Davis and Marlon Riggs.
posted by dottiechang at 8:49 PM on December 5, 2012

Best answer: Look for old issues of High Performance magazine- it pretty thoroughly documented the early '80's NYC (and elsewhere) scene. I had a subscription as a lad in high school.
posted by ergomatic at 10:06 PM on December 5, 2012

Best answer: Pranks and Angry Women are both fairly old compilations of interviews. Though not focussed specifically on PA they include a number of PAs (Karen Finley, Annie Sprinkle, I forget the others), people who just have a toe in PA, and are so cheap and fun to have on the shelf I felt obliged to mention them. It's been 20 years since I read them but the relevant interviews can vary between theory-lite and theory-free.
posted by K.P. at 10:37 PM on December 5, 2012

Best answer: You want to take a look at Joesph Beuys.
posted by FeralHat at 10:39 PM on December 5, 2012

As someone who's found themselves in a similar situation (new family member is a performance artist; I know nothing about performance and often don't quite get it), I wanted to mention that it might be that the best way to learn about performance art, or what it means to her, is to just ask her. Performances artists, in my experience, are generally understanding about the fact that not everyone will understand or appreciate their art, and they're often have sort of an elevator pitch for themselves prepared, as well as a longer explanation of their work and influences.

Additionally, asking her questions about her art will surely bring you more of a connection than reading a bunch of books and hoping that it comes up naturally, somehow. Just ask!
posted by MeghanC at 5:49 AM on December 6, 2012

I think asking her is the best way especially if you are coming at it from a perspective of sincere interest and not "Oh, performance art, is that were you get naked and jump around a room harharharnotrealart!". You could ask her what brought her to that artistic form and who influenced her and then go read some more.

But Abramovic is an easy place to start because there's just so much material about her right now and some of her pieces are direct homages to other artists that influenced her so as you learn about her you'll naturally be drawn to other paths and places. I saw her and her retrospective at MoMA and it drew me down a bunch of interesting paths (and I agree with the Tehching Hsieh admiration!).
posted by marylynn at 2:06 PM on December 6, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks guys! I totally agree with the sentiment that I should focus on actually asking her. And I have had conversations with her in the past but the conversations focused more on the values of her message and the traveling she has done.

There are extenuating circumstances, as always, that make regular conversation with her a bit tough. She travels a ton, when she's stateside she lives in a different city than we do, and I've been told by various members of her family she's a bit reluctant to talk about her work. While the family is supportive, they don't understand a lot of it either. I guess it's been frustrating.

I want to familiarize myself with the basics so she doesn't feel like she's talking to a brick wall. When my brother was studying art in uni I would swipe his old art text books to understand what he was talking about. (TBH, I have a v. bad habit of tuning out if I am unfamiliar with a subject.)

So, thanks so much for the suggestions! I'll study up and hopefully feel less like a bumpkin when I see her at the holidays.
posted by peacrow at 3:15 PM on December 6, 2012

Best answer: Library assignment: 'Performance Art; From Futurism to the Present' by Roselee Goldberg.
posted by glasseyes at 3:17 PM on December 6, 2012

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