|"OUT OF ACTIONS: BETWEEN PERFORMANCE AND THE OBJECT, 1949-1979"|
"OUT OF ACTIONS: BETWEEN PERFORMANCE AND THE OBJECT, 1949-1979"
OPENS FEBRUARY 8, 1998, AT THE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART;
Extensive International Tour to Vienna, Barcelona and Tokyo
LOS ANGELES - "Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979," an examination of the complex relationship linking the creative process, action or performance, and works of art in the postwar period, opens February 8, 1998, at The Geffen Contemporary of The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). The exhibition is on view through May 10, 1998, at The Geffen Contemporary (152 North Central Avenue in downtown Los Angeles), then embarks on an international tour to Vienna, Barcelona and Tokyo.
"Out of Actions" examines the genesis and evolution of actions or performances that resulted in the creation of works of art, centering around how the possibilities and implications of utilizing time and process as elements of art were realized by a number of international movements from approximately 1949 to 1979. Nearly 150 artists and collaboratives from approximately 20 countries in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Japan and North and South America are featured, from groups including the New York School, Nouveaux Realistes, Fluxus, Viennese Actionists, Hi Red Center and from movements including arte povera, the Gutai group, happenings, process art and performance art. Although each of these movements has been explored in-depth individually, this is the first major exhibition to examine the links among disparate artists and movements and to suggest a complex web of connections over geography and time.
"Out of Actions" is organized by MOCA Chief Curator Paul Schimmel in consultation with an inter-national advisory team, who have also contributed essays for the accompanying catalogue: Guy Brett, independent curator and writer from London; Hubert Klocker, Vienna-based critic, independent curator and curator of Collection Friedrichshof; Shinichiro Osaki, curator at the National Museum of Art in Osaka; and Kristine Stiles, professor of art history at Duke University.
"Out of Actions" is organized primarily in chronological order, placing artists associated with different movements and countries in proximity to one another and thus allowing connections to be drawn among works that in many cases have not previously been viewed as related. The contents include paintings, sculpture, drawings and installations; in addition to these historical works, several influential works have been recreated by the artists for the exhibition. Documentary materials including photographs and edited sections from films and videotapes are particularly important in showing viewers the performance or action in the context in which the work was made, and in many cases this visual record has been as influential on later artists as the objects themselves have been; brief excerpts from approximately 100 films and videos are accessible on demand through 19 monitors installed throughout the exhibition.
"Out of Actions" begins with works by artists making action (or gestural) paintings, who, from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, started to examine the pivotal concept that the process of creating an art object could itself be a work of art. The first gallery features Jackson Pollock's masterpiece No. 1 (1949), from MOCA's Schreiber Collection, and Hans Namuth's famous documentation of the artist's creative process; John Cage's Water Music (1952), which was the score for a performance by both the artist and the audience as well as an element of the performance itself; and works by Lucio Fontana and Sh_z_ Shimamoto, who in different parts of the world (Italy and Japan, respectively) and without knowledge of each other's activities, developed their own styles for rupturing the surface of the picture plane, thus expanding the presence of the work from two to three dimensions.
By the mid-1950s, the performance had become as important as the resulting object to a number of artists. In Paris and Japan, Georges Mathieu produced large-scale paintings of medieval battles as part of theatrical presentations that were documented in photographs and films. Also in Japan, artists associated with the Gutai group developed their own performance tradition: Kazuo Shiraga produced "foot" paintings while suspended from ropes attached to the ceiling; Saburo Murakami burst through rice-paper screens in symbolic desecration of this traditional home-building material; Atsuko Tanaka created Electric Dress (1956/85), a wearable sculpture of a nervous system on the exterior of the body (the sculpture and accompanying drawings are shown together in this exhibition for the first time since their initial presentation in 1956); and Akira Kanayama painted on vinyl-covered canvases with electrically controlled miniature cars containing bottles of colored ink.
Beginning in the late 1950s, a number of artists began increasingly to focus their performative activities on the creation of sculptural installations rather than action paintings. A central figure in the New York art scene during these years, Allan Kaprow wrote an influential 1958 ARTnews article articulating Pollock's influence and outlining the underlying principles of happenings. Kaprow created "action collages" in which he employed the viewer as participant and used the resulting elements in his assemblages; the exhibition includes Rearrangeable Panels (1957-59) from "18 Happenings in 6 Parts" and a recreation of Yard (1961), a field-like installation of used automobile tires which visitors can enter. Influenced by Kaprow, Jim Dine created a number of perform-ances; the exhibition presents elements from the installation Household Piece (1959), among other works. Knowledge of Mathieu's work inspired one of Red Grooms' earliest forays into performance, "A Play Called Fire" (1958), during which he produced a painting which is included in the exhibition. In The Store (1961-62), Claes Oldenburg functioned as both manufacturer and purveyor of his work; the exhibition's compressed version of his shop is intended to give a sense of the ongoing operation of the original.
In a famous 1961 performance at the American Embassy in Paris, Robert Rauschenberg produced First Time Painting; Niki de Saint Phalle created a target painting, Tir de l'Ambassade Americaine, by having a marksman fire at paint-filled balloons; a motorized sculpture by Jean Tinguely operated; and David Tudor played a Cage composition on piano. "Out of Actions" presents one of Rauschenberg's subsequent time paintings, the Tir de l'Ambassade Americaine, and several Tinguely sculptures on a stage to recall this original presentation, together with extensive photodocumentation.
Associated with the Nouveaux Realistes in Paris in the early 1960s, Yves Klein transformed the idea of the artist's action through his Anthropométries (1960). He transferred the action from himself to nude models, who as "living paintbrushes" followed the instructions of the artist in a public performance of "The Monotone Symphony." A "leap into the void," Klein's famous staged photograph from October 1960, was very influential on subsequent developments in action art and in many ways provided a uniquely appropriate metaphor for the action artists' creative processes.
In addition to the performative aspects, a commercial subtext underlay the activities of many artists throughout the years covered by the exhibition. In several of his installations, Ben Vautier created performance events to draw attention to his commercial operations. In the late 1950s Italian chemist-turned-artist Giuseppe Pinot Gallizio invented a machine to manufacture enormous "paintings by the yard" in an effort to devalue art and make it omnipresent; the exhibition presents one Industrial Painting (1958). In Le coin du restaurant Spoerri (c. 1968), Daniel Spoerri cooked and served patrons meals as works of art. And in the late 1960s Yayoi Kusama opened a shop in New York in which she sold commercially manufactured clothing that she had altered, an activity that grew out of her performative activities.
Subsequent to Rauschenberg's Automobile Tire Print (with John Cage) (1953), several artists independently created works using different manifestations of the line. The exhibition presents several line works (1959-61) by Piero Manzoni, along with a number of the artist's other, body-based works; James Lee Byars' Untitled Object (1962-64), a length of folded paper inscribed with a continuous line; and two 1963 string works by Jir_ Takamatsu.
Contemporaneously with Hi Red Center activities in Japan, members of Fluxus in Europe and the United States held performative events in addition to producing films, multiples and publications. In the early 1960s, George Brecht scored a number of performances for the placement of objects on a table, chair and coatrack. Visitors can interact with several of Yoko Ono's works, including Painting to Hammer a Nail (1961/98). For the 1962 Festival of Misfits in London, Robert Filliou created an automatic poetry machine. Three of Nam June Paik's "prepared pianos" from 1962-63 performances, which have never traveled out of Austria and Germany before, are shown, along with documentary photography. In the late 1960s Dick Higgins created several symphonies by pinning up musical score paper, then shooting it with a machine gun. Later, in the 1970s, George Maciunas built the sculpture One Year (1972) from packaging for the food he ate during one year, and Alison Knowles created Gentle Surprises for the Ear (1975/97), a floor piece comprised of many objects used to make noise, each with instructions for use attached.
Gustav Metzger organized the influential Destruction in Art Symposium in London in 1966, inviting the creators of happenings, Fluxus, Viennese Action Art and concrete poets from around the world to attend. Metzger's South Bank Demo (1961), created by spraying acid over nylon stretched on a frame, has been recreated for this exhibition, as has British artist John Latham's Skoob Tower Ceremony (1964), in which the artist symbol-ically destroys the source of absolute knowledge by burning a stack of books, with the resulting ashes displayed. Raphael Montañez Ortiz has remade Piano Destruction Concert (1966), in which the artist hacks a piano to bits with an axe. Also remade was 130 à l'heure, one part of the nine-part happening "9 Nein-dé-coll/agen" (1963) by Wolf Vostell; in this section a locomotive destroyed a Mercedes left on railroad tracks, with the resulting wreck installed outside the Geffen Contemporary.
The Viennese Actionists' sexually provocative, socially and politically critical performances exerted a strong influence on subsequent performance art. Works by Günter Brus include body-oriented drawings and collages of altered performance photos. Otto Muehl's Aktionsobject (1963-64), a painting made during a series of performances, has never seen outside of Vienna before. Hermann Nitsch's Asolo Raum (1971), the artist's synthesis of elements from his activities during the 1960s, includes painting, sculptures of "sacramental" objects, photos and film from the "Organ Mystery Theater." In addition to photos of several actions by Rudolf Schwarzkogler, the exhibition presents the wall sculpture Untitled (Sigmund Freud-Bild) (1965), with a razor blade embedded in the surface.
Carolee Schneemann has brought together all the elements of her landmark body actions and installation Eye Body (1963) including several pieces not seen since its initial installation, together with photographs docu-menting the original performance. Associated with arte povera in Italy, Jannis Kounellis created untitled "singing paintings" in 1959-60 and later, in 1970, painted musical scores in front of which musicians and dancers per-formed; and Michelangelo Pistoletto filmed performances of his Globe (1966-68), a walking sculpture made of newspaper, moving through a number of locations, then turned the object into a stationary sculpture. Allied in the early 1960s with the Fluxus movement, Joseph Beuys later expanded his conception of art to view society and the world as a vast work of art existing in a process of constant transformation. The exhibition presents works exemplifying two of his major areas of activity: Ausfegen (1972), "sweepings" from a political action of cleaning, and two blackboards from lectures on death and technology, part of his influential series of lectures on "social sculpture."
Many works in the exhibition by Eastern European artists have never been seen in this country before; their creation had enormous political and social significance at a time when repressive regimes in these countries condemned acts of personal expression. Among these artists are Milan Kní_ák, who created the Aktual Group in Czechoslovakia in the early 1960s to stage socially and politically provocative actions, and Romanian artist Ion Grigorescu, who created and documented performances in his own apartment in the 1970s.
Although initiated by the Gutai group and continued by Fluxus artists, from approximately the mid-1960s on, artists increasingly created works that required viewer participation in order to be complete. From Latin America come several interactive works: Lygia Pape's Eat Me (1968/1998), which invites visitors to use eyedroppers to taste different liquids colored in opposition to their flavors; Hélio Oiticica's colorful parangolés (capes), made from common materials and worn by dancers, representing a blend of popular and high culture; and an installation by Lygia Clark of objects meant to be used by the viewer to transform his or her physical and/or psychological health. While living in London, Filipino artist David Medalla created A Stitch in Time (1968-72), with viewers invited to embroider on a large piece of cloth using thread from many large spools.
From a subsequent generation of Viennese action artists, the exhibition includes the "touch cinema" object and performance documentation of Valie Export's Tapp und Tastkino (1968/1998), a feminist intervention which confronted the public with real bodies rather than pornography; documentation of Peter Weibel's Scar Poems, Object (1970), in which the artist embedded a scroll containing a poem under his skin; and, in a recreation of an activity from the late 1970s, Franz West's sculptural objects, which transform the viewer when he or she puts them on.
Simultaneously but independently, Mowry Baden and Paul Cotton each created works that invited participants to use their bodies to experience space by moving through a narrow passage. Cotton's Random House Converter #6 (1966) consists of a series of seven stretched canvases with vertical openings in the center. Visitors can enter Baden's Instrument (1969), a corridor with sides that curve in and out, which is installed about five feet off the floor so that only the person's head passes through it.
For many artists who came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s, performance art formed the basis of their early work, influencing their later installation and sculptural work. Many of these works involved manipulations of their own bodies, turning themselves into artworks. Gilbert & George considered themselves living sculptures and thus everything they did as sculpture. Vito Acconci created a number of performance works in which he placed himself in situations of psychological interaction with the viewer; he subsequently took the idea of viewer participation a step further in Command Performance (1974), an installation with an audio/video element that commanded visitors to perform for the unseen artist. Chris Burden probed his relationship with social, psycho-logical and technological conditions of contemporary society; the exhibition presents relics from his most visible performances, including "Five Day Locker Piece" (1971). In addition to structural alterations that created a dialogue with and against architecture, Gordon Matta-Clark created such performance works as Hair (1972), documenting the length of his hair strung out against a grid. To create Le corps pressenti (1975), French artist Gina Pane placed her feet in wet plaster, then cut herself and bled into the plaster to exhibit aspects of her own physical and psychological pain. Assortment (1973-83), a dramatic installation by Paul McCarthy, presents stacks of suitcases stuffed with all the relics from his body-oriented performances during these years.
The use of the body was particularly central in expressing feminist concerns, and these works also frequently contained social and political criticisms. In her Catalysis (1970) series, Adrian Piper documented her presence in a number of public situations in which the identity she adopted made other people in those situations uncomfortable and self-conscious. In the early 1970s Rebecca Horn created sculptures that were worn as body-altering sculptures. Ana Mendieta sculpted then photographed potent figures of abstract female shapes that suggest both specific cultural and social concerns as well as timeless notions of life and spirituality. With her collaborator, Ulay, Marina Abramovi_ investigated relationships in both physical and symbolic terms; the exhibition presents the Citroën panel truck from their performance Relation in Movement (1977).
In the early 1970s, San Francisco Bay-area artists Terry Fox, Howard Fried and Tom Marioni explored issues of psychology and human behavior in performances, installations and situational events. Fox created a series of works based on the theme of the medieval labyrinth; in All My Dirty Blue Clothes (1970), Fried made a rope of blue clothes approximately 70 feet long; and Marioni's well-known gatherings are documented in the exhibition, together with several of his Drum-brush Drawings (1973), showing the residue of a human action.
The dialogue between performance and visual art initiated by these artists continues today, and their experiments have impacted the development of performance, video and conceptual art to the present.
"Out of Actions" is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 408-page catalogue which includes newly commissioned essays by the curator and members of the curatorial advisory team. Schimmel's essay provides an overview of the exhibition, focusing on the 1950s, early 1960s and the 1970s in California; Brett writes on performative activities in Great Britain and South America during the 1960s and 1970s; Klocker reviews the Viennese Actionists and artists active in Germany and in the former Soviet Union; Osaki covers the Gutai, Hi Red Center and Neo-Dada groups in Japan; and Stiles' comprehensive text focuses on the entire 1949-79 history of action art, including the influential Destruction in Art Symposium, Fluxus and performative activities in Eastern Europe, Great Britain and the Middle East. Co-published with Thames & Hudson, the publication also includes a timeline placing the artists in a historical perspective and an exhibition checklist and sells for $45.
Following its presentation in Los Angeles, "Out of Actions" will travel to MAK-Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna (June 17-September 6, 1998); Museu d'art Contemporani, Barcelona (October 15, 1998-January 6, 1999); and Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (February 13-April 11, 1999).
"Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979" is dedicated to the memory of Sydney Irmas and is made possible by a generous gift from The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Charitable Foundation.
The exhibition has also received significant support from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency; The Japan Foundation; the Japan-United States Friendship Commission; the Austrian Cultural Institute, New York; the Austrian Federal Chancellery - Arts; the Austrian Consulate General in Los Angeles; The British Council; Merrill Lynch; Service Culturel du Consulat Général de France à Los Angeles; and Association Française d'Action Artistique (AFAA), Ministère des Affaires Etrangères.