Launching Soon: In Terms of Performance, New Online Keywords Anthology

28 Nov 2016


A. L. Steiner + robbinschilds, C.L.U.E., Part I (color location ultimate experience), 2007, digital video, TRT 10:47. Photo: A. L. Steiner, Untitled (white), 2007, color pigment print. Performers: Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs.

In December, we will launch our newest publication, In Terms of Performance, produced in collaboration with the Arts Research Center, University of California, Berkeley, and edited by the Arts Research Center's Shannon Jackson and The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage's Paula Marincola.

A web-based keywords anthology designed to provoke discovery and generate shared literacies across disciplines, In Terms of Performance features essays and interviews from more than 50 prominent artists, curators, presenters, and scholars who reflect on common yet contested terms in contemporary cultural practice.

As a preview, we're sharing excerpts from the anthology, offering three different perspectives on the keyword "collecting." Below, Walker Art Center's Philip Bither, art historian and founding director of Performa RoseLee Goldberg, and Museum der Moderne's Sabine Breitwieser reflect on the term and consider the challenges of collecting and displaying time-based art, and what Breitwieser describes as the "constantly changing concept of art and artistic practice [that] confronts the contemporary art museum."

Philip Bither
William and Nadine McGuire Director and Senior Curator of Performing Arts, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN

Until recently, museum collection committees and associated curators thought that the real-time, ephemeral nature of performance rendered it "uncollectible," thus leaving a big part of recent art history unexamined and therefore undervalued. While the twentieth century was chock-full of conceptual and performance-based art practices and the disciplines of visual art, music, dance, and theater were at key moments intertwined and mutually influential, the resulting "live" works were generally collected only when there was a strong physical component that demonstrated value...

The early twenty-first century has witnessed a dramatic surge of interest within the visual art world in performance-based works, sparked not only by the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of art today but also by larger social shifts toward a digital culture (and an associated diminished attachment to the physical) and a heightened societal valuation of the experiential. Yet despite the acceptance of performance as an essential form of contemporary art practice, museums continue to grapple with the inherent questions and contradictions of collecting it. How does an institution acquire, preserve, and display work that was built for real time and space, that essentially disappears after its time has expired? The best-practice jury on this remains out.

RoseLee Goldberg
Art historian, author, critic, curator, and founding director of Performa, New York, NY

For the individual collector, collecting performance instructions, notations, or scripts might be akin to buying first-edition books, a rare manuscript, or a set of conceptual art instructions. They enjoy the rarified intellectual scope of the work, and they are more likely to hold onto it. Resale is not the point. At the same time many artists working in performance since the 1960s—including Marina Abramović, Vito Acconci, Allora and Calzadilla, Roman Ondák, Joseph Beuys, John Bock, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Pierre Huyghe, Joan Jonas, William Kentridge, Paul McCarthy, and Clifford Owens, among many others—make photographs, wall pieces, videos, paintings, sculptures, films, installations, and drawings that together would constitute an extraordinary performance art collection for any museum or private collector. And indeed these already exist inside museum collections, only by another name. They are hiding in plain sight in contemporary art galleries and scattered across departments within museums, from the library to the photography, drawing, and video and film collections... These are only now being recognized for what they are, as art historians and curators alike finally understand the relevance of live performance in shaping the history of twentieth-century art.

Sabine Breitwieser
Director, Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria

The constantly changing concept of art and artistic practice confronts the contemporary art museum as an institution with numerous challenges regarding its organization, structure, and spatial facilities. Experimental and interdisciplinary art as well as the use of new technologies have led in recent decades to the emergence of multimedia art forms that are not restricted to static objects but are time-based and include live elements. Recently museums, which previously excluded such art forms, have also tried to incorporate these often rather complex artistic practices into their collections. At the same time they realized that innovative programming has the potential to create new audiences. Such institutional strategies have resulted in the support and popularization of numerous performance-based art forms. The consequences of this turn are still developing and have not yet been fully evaluated. Different artistic fields were once separately collected, displayed, and received, and painting and sculpture have until now been the dominant mediums of high culture. Only recently, new aesthetic and art-historical comparisons are being made between visual art and dance, theater, and music. Artists are increasingly inspired to move among different fields and institutions, and leading figures from performing arts disciplines are suddenly assuming an important role in the art world.