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All the world's a stage: performance art past and present

Emerging in the early 20th century and reaching its peak of popularity in the 1960s and '70s, performance art has long been a tool for artists seeking to break with artistic conventions, to deliver a more direct and powerful form of expression, and, in many cases, to transmit a strong political message. In terms of definition, however, performance art is not easily pinned down. Encompassing a wide range of practices, and often incorporating elements of other art forms such as dance and theatre, the line between performance art and other artistic practises is often blurred. In the simplest of terms, performance art is defined as a form of multidisciplinary visual art performed live to an audience. Though many feel that the 1960s and '70s heyday of performance art has passed, the iconic performances and artists of this period continue to have a lasting influence on contemporary visual arts, whilst performance art remains an important medium for many of today's artists looking for an antidote to the increasingly commercialised art world.

Yet, with auction prices reaching new heights and hoards of new art fairs springing up every year, is there a place for a staunchly anti-market art form in the contemporary art scene? And as institutions and collectors begin to take notice of the importance of performance art, will they succeed in preserving the iconic works of performance art, or are these intrinsically ephemeral pieces destined to fade into obscurity or to persist in the form of secondary material, as empty husks of their once powerful and arresting live performances? AMA explores the complex history of performance art, and examines the questions that surround the past, present, and future of this radical discipline...

The birth of performance art

Though the origins of performance art are most often traced back to the avant-garde artistic movements of the early 20th century, a number of scholars have contested this judgement, citing Renaissance Italy, and even Ancient Greece, as homes to the earliest forms of performance art. Indeed, the public "stunts" of the Greek philosophers Antisthenes and Diogenes, the latter of whom was known for walking around in broad daylight carrying a lamp, and claiming to be in search of "an honest man", would not be out of place amongst the wide-ranging performances by 20th and 21st century artists. Likewise, the Italian itinerant poets and minstrels who travelled the country during the Renaissance, publically reciting their poems, are reminiscent of the early examples of performance art in the 20th century, for example the poetry recitals and performances that took place at the Cabaret Voltaire. Nevertheless, whether or not such works would rightly be classified as "performance art" in the contemporary sense, it is clear that the roots of the modern performance art tradition are to be found at the turn of the 20th century, when artists from the multi-disciplinary movements of Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism began to make use of performance as part of their artistic practice.

In 1916, Hugo Ball and Emmy Hemmings founded the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich"s Holländische Meirei tavern, which was to play a crucial role in the development of performance art. Frequented by pioneers of Dadaism, the Cabaret Voltaire hosted raucous and experimental performances such as poetic recitals, performances of avant-garde musical compositions, and live painting. Likewise in Italy, members of the Futurist movement staged public readings of their manifestos, even before the first ever exhibition of their paintings, which is often cited as an early example of performance art. Slightly later, and further afield, the Black Mountain College in North Carolina was an important influence on performance art. Founded in 1933, the college was centred around an interdisciplinary approach to the arts, numbering notable figures from various experimental and avant-garde artistic, literary, and musical fields amongst its faculty members. Particularly influential in the development of performance art, both during their time at Black Mountain and elsewhere, were the composer John Cage and the dancer Merce Cunningham, who were formative influences on the likes of George Brecht and Alan Kaprow, the latter a key member of the Fluxus movement. [...]

22 April 2015 | AMA

Moderna Museet Acquires Important Marcel Duchamp Archive Compiled by Ulf Linde

Stockholm's Moderna Museet has acquired the Marcel Duchamp archive compiled by art critic and museum director Ulf Linde. The archive includes sketches, letters, books, and photographs signed by the artist.

Linde, who died in 2013 after a long battle with illness, was one of the world's foremost experts on Duchamp's art.

He also made replicas of all of Duchamp's major works, including the first authorized copy of The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (1915–23) in 1961.

The long and intense professional relationship between Duchamp and Linde began that same year under the auspices of Moderna Museet, when Duchamp visited Stockholm to attend the touring exhibition "Movement in Art," curated by the museum's director at the time, Pontus Hultén.

The exhibition featured Linde's copy of The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, as well as works by a number of important artists including Jean Tinguely and Alexander Calder (see See Rare, Mesmerizing Alexander Calder Sculptures at Dominique Lévy).

Now, Linde's life-long Duchamp archive has been acquired in full by the museum with the help of bishop Åke Bonnier.

"The importance of Marcel Duchamp's presence at Moderna Museet, to both Swedish and international art life, is beyond a doubt," Bonnier said in a statement. "I am happy to be able to support research into the intriguing dialogue that arose between Marcel Duchamp and Ulf Linde here in Stockholm."

This week, a group of international scholars will meet for a three-day symposia at Moderna Museet to discuss new developments in the research about the legacy of Marcel Duchamp in post-war art (see Just How Influential Was Marcel Duchamp? and In '64, Duchamp Pissed on his Collectors).

Lorena Muñoz-Alonso, April 27, 2015 in Artnet News