What’s Wrong With Art? Performance Is Poorly Presented In Museum Exhibitions

Tabish Khan loves art and visits hundreds of exhibitions a year. But every now and then he comes across something in the art world that doesn’t meet his approval.

adeline_de_monseignat_this_whisper_courtesy_the_artist_and_nahmad_projects

Performance art is wildly popular in the art world — think Marina Abramovic and Tino Sehgal. In fact Nahmad Projects opened a space in Cork Street with a whole series of 30 performances.

What it offers is dynamism, interaction and the use of physical bodies can give it an intimacy and presence other art forms often lack. So far, so good.

The problem comes with preservation and presenting a performance in the context of a museum type exhibition — particularly when looking back at an artist who is no longer alive.

The Tate Modern is about to open an exhibition on Robert Rauschenberg and performance was an important part of his practice. But what we get is a video on a 14 inch old school monitor — that’s not going to inspire anyone.

A similar issue occurred with Keith Arnatt eating his own words. At a recent Tate Britain exhibition we saw a series of photographs but they are just the essence of the work and have none of the impact on the audience that a live performance would have.

I shouldn’t just pick on Tate here, as this is an issue affecting museums worldwide.

So how to solve it?

Performance can be dynamic and engaging if we ditch the ‘art history reverence’ that prevents the art world from replicating performances. If we saw a live performance replicating what has happened years ago, it would leave a lasting impression and really give the exhibition visitor a taste of what the original performance was like.

I’m sure there are copyright issues to overcome. But overcome they must be if past performances are to engage modern day audiences. It just takes a brave museum or art gallery to lead the way.

For more in this series, see my thoughts on Frieze week floozies, too much respect for an artist’s legacyopinions not being welcomean exhibition across three countriestackling race and gender in artartist-curatorsart fair hypetop 5s and top 10sour political art is terriblegap left by Brian Sewellhow art never learned from the Simpsons, why artspeak won’t die, so-called reviewsbad reviews are bad for business, the $179m dollar headline, art fairs appealing to the masses, false opening hours, size matters and what’s wrong with video art.

Lead image courtesy of Adeline de Monseignat and Nahmad Projects, London. Photo: Benedict Johnson

About Tabish Khan

Art Critic for both FAD and Londonist. See as many exhibitions as possible and write reviews, opinion pieces and a weekly top 5 for FAD.