A traveling exhibition at the H&R Block Artspace, Performance Now, includes performance art from the last decade, with work by artists spanning generations, such as Marina Abramović, Yael Bartana, and Clifford Owens.
There’s a 12-hour performance of a 3 ½ minute aria; a slightly-scripted soap opera filmed in Ikea stores; and a Claymation film about urban violence. There are also re-performances, or re-creations of famous works from the past.
Performance art, then and now
Performance Now was organized by RoseLee Goldberg, the artistic director and founder of Performa, a performance art biennial in New York. Goldberg literally wrote the book on performance art, a seminal work called Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present (1979).
"She really is the major thinker and the major organizer of performance art events," says H&R Block Artspace director and curator Raechell Smith. "She's been thinking about this and doing this work for a number of years. So I really think she’s the source."
Smith says in the 1960s and '70s, much of performance art was endurance-based. Artists put themselves through extreme actions – often requiring the full engagement or attention of an audience.
"The way performance art is integrated into a practice by most contemporary artists is very different. So it looks different, and it lives in the world in a variety of ways now," she says. "So this exhibition really kind of looks at that. And it does so in a way that I think will be really helpful and useful for young artists to see."
Live performance documented
Walking into the Artspace, there’s a flat screen displaying a work by the artist team Allora & Calzadilla, Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on ‘Ode to Joy’ for a Prepared Piano (2009). An 18-inch hole is cut into the center of a piano where the pianist stands. As Ode to Joy is played, the artist leans over the piano, slowly walking the instrument.
"So you see the performance in the space, where the performance is occurring, with the audience, encountering the original live performance," she says. "But we’re watching documentation that’s been equally considered by the artist."
The works in the exhibition range from serious to playful.
Inspired by a neighbor who hula-hooped on a rooftop, Christian Jankowski filmed Rooftop Routine (2008) with 30 hula-hoopers on the rooftops of New York’s China Town who followed her moves. And with 20 hulu hoops on hand at the Artspace, visitors can do the same.
Provoking discussion about history
Other artists dip into performances from past decades.
In Seven Easy Pieces (2005), Marina Abramović re-enacted iconic works from the 1960s and '70s, such as Vito Acconci's Seedbed (1972), as well as staging two of her own works, linking the past with the present.
And in Anthology (2011), Clifford Owens asked more than two dozen African-American artists to contribute scores – instructions for actions, in writing or drawing – that he would then enact.
"This one's interesting because he's completely, he's offering no resistance at all," Smith describes, as she stands next to Owens' video. "These people are having to move his body, literally pick up and move his body into these very particular positions.
"There’s an intensity to Clifford’s work, regardless of what he’s performing, as is the case with a lot of artists who use performance."
The exhibition Performance Now continues through October 12, 2013, H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute, 16 E. 43rd Street, Kansas City, Mo. 816-561-5563.
Judith Levy's film, NV in KC: A Story About Artists and Envy in Kansas City (2013) will be screened Thursday, September 5, at 7 p.m. at Epperson Auditorium on the KCAI campus.
Check here for more works in the Performance Now film series.