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Performance and Reperformance

Marina Abramovic, The House with the Ocean View (2002), Sean Kelly Gallery.

As an artistic classification, the term ‘performance art’ is fairly contentious within the contemporary art world. Over the past 40 years, the artistic practice has evolved to encompass myriad forms and titles in an attempt to adequately categorize the genre. Artists, curators and scholars readily agree there are historical sub-movements within the genre, such as body art, live art, etc., but the term ‘performance art’ has been largely accepted as the definitive term and subsequently integrated within both art historical and popular discourse.  Some argue the classification of ‘performative’ is misleading and antithetical to the conceptual basis of most works done in the 1960’s and 70’s.  The term portends theatricality and therefore misconstrues or alters the intentions of the work because of the association with entertainment. 

So it is easy to imagine the contention and debate brought to the forefront of the art world when performance artworks made in the 1960’s and 70’s – when performance art really took off as an artistic practice – was featured within the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Museum of Modern Art in 2005 and 2010, respectively. The Guggenheim’s “Seven Easy Pieces” (2005) featured works by artists such as Joseph Beuys, Gina Pane and Vito Acconci.  Intriguingly, these seminal works did not feature the original artist but rather were performed by another, an artistic contemporary who has proclaimed her intentions to take control of the genre: Marina Abramovic.  She is responsible for coining the phrase ‘reperformance’ and much debate has occurred over the validity of the term, especially considering the debate regarding the antecedent term ‘performance.’

After MoMA’s “The Artist is Present” (2010), discourse surrounding the classification, considerations and contextual underpinnings of performance art received greater attention and the controversy intensified.  The issue, then, becomes whether implications arise when the same artist performs a work outside of its original context, or an artist performs the work of another. Are there acceptable situations or contexts with which the re-performance can be considered?

We believe that Re-performance is a pertinent subject that warrants further discussion; artists, institutions, curators and media are frequently bringing this theme to light, and debating about how to address this issue, especially how to re-create work without wounding the essence of the masterpiece.

Instead of having just one guest addressing the subject-matter, we concluded that it would be interesting to have different voices talking about this. We then decided to publish an open call on the ICI website asking people to submit their essays, articles and ideas around the Re-performance theme. The three submissions included offer diverse and relevant points of view on Re-performance.

Marina Abramovic and Ulay, Imponderabilia (1977).

Marina Abramovic, Imponderabilia Re-performance at Museum of Modern Art (2010).

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