April 5, 2010  |  MoMA PS1
100 Years: A History of Performance Art

Installation view of 100 Years at P.S.1. Photo by Matthew Septimus

Performance art is in the middle of an extraordinary resurgence in popularity right now, with groundbreaking performance exhibitions at several institutions in the New York area, including the recent Tino Sehgal show at the Guggenheim Museum, the current Tania Bruguera exhibition at the Neuberger Museum, and of course, The Museum of Modern Art’s Marina Abramović exhibition, The Artist is Present. Performance programming is on the rise at biennials and art fairs around the world, and departments devoted to performance art—such as those at MoMA, Tate Modern, and Centre Georges Pompidou—are increasingly being incorporated into the contemporary art museum.

There is no better way to understand this remarkable material, and the reasons behind its current boom, than to visit 100 Years (version #2, ps1, nov 2009), an exhibition on view now through the end of April at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Queens.

Organized by P.S.1 and Performa on the occasion of Performa 09 (last year’s performance biennial, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Futurist Manifesto), 100 Years is an essential introduction to the history of performance art that has directly shaped the history of twentieth-century art, and that continues to be central to the art and ideas of the first decade of the twenty-first. The exhibition, of material never before gathered in the same gallery space, provides a vital timeline of this history.

Conceived as a “living exhibition” of documentation that will continue to grow exponentially into the future, 100 Years shows the extraordinary variety of “live” performance over the last ten decades. Reprints of Futurist and Dada manifestos are seen side by side with photographs of Oskar Schlemmer‘s Triadic Ballet, films of Francis Picabia‘s Relâche, and Mary Wigman’s Hexentanz in the first room, while unforgettable films (transferred to video) by Yves Klein, Carolee Schneemann, Anna Halprin, Yoko Ono, Trisha Brown, and Yayoi Kusama can be seen in the second. The exhibition leads viewers chronologically through the galleries, with material by Vito Acconci, Ana Mendieta, Matthew Barney, Tania Bruguera, Adrian Piper, and Michael Smith, all the way up to the present day, with material by Allora & Calzadilla, Sigalit Landau, and Ryan Trecartin.

The exhibition also includes a dedicated space for Electronic Arts Intermix, the pioneering resource for video and media art that began collecting and preserving artists’ videos in 1971. A selection from their archives, entitled “45 Years of Performance Video from EAI,” features seminal works by Joan Jonas, Stuart Sherman, and Lynda Benglis, among many others.

Installation view of 100 Years at P.S.1. Photo by Summer Kemick

100 Years is an exhibition I have been dreaming about for many years, and is the title of a talk I gave at Tate Modern in 2003. For me, it is essential that the iconic markers of the history of performance art are as well known to critics, students, and the general public as are the key works of twentieth-century painting and sculpture. How else to fully understand the extraordinary rooms at MoMA featuring the Italian Futurists, Russian Constructivists, or the Surrealists, Yves Klein or Robert Rauschenberg, without reference to the actions that were the source material for the works on display? The history of performance art has been entirely missing from the history of art so far, and it is for this reason that I launched Performa, to set the record straight. For the same reason I was absolutely thrilled when Klaus Biesenbach, P.S.1’s chief curator, and Kathy Halbreich, MoMA’s associate director,  jumped at my idea to present 100 Years as part of their Open Studios program, when I proposed it to them last year.

The response to the exhibition has been thrilling; artists, dancers, architects, writers, and critics in a range of disciplines have been returning week after week to study this remarkable material—I am sure that several dissertations must have been started amidst the galleries! I encourage everyone to see this exhibition. We’ll be glad for your feedback, as 100 Years is, after all, a living exhibition that will continue to grow and expand as new work and rediscovered material from the past is added to this extraordinary archive.