A couple years back I remember watching an interview of James Franco and Marina Abromovic, where Mr. Franco asked about her evolution as an artist. The interview took place in her apartment where she was serving him her “special” desert. I couldn’t help but cringe when she declared that the studio was an awful place, where no artist should be, where art is life and life is art. Hmmm. Dismissing painting as if it is a first step to a more evolved artist (eg. performance artist), seems a little presumptuous. I dare any declared performance artist, video artist, etc to step up to the easel and make a go at it – it requires a tremendous amount of patience and leaps of faith like no other. And as much as I greatly admire Ms. Abromovic I am sometimes confused with her manifestos and her own life as example – a friend of mine once met her at an art fair where she promptly told my friend that as an artist she should never attend art fairs (?!), and she’s been seen on the red carpet lately attending award galas and screenings, art as life? I digress…onto performance art and painting…..
The Tate Modern just launched a show called, A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance. It’s a survey of works that are primarily performance works that include a canvas, or performance works that use the body as canvas (ie. Ana Mendieta, Cindy Sherman). Besides the text book Pollack video by Hans Namuth showing the artist performing/creating his paintings, the lesser known Pinot Gallizio’s work stands out. He approached his paintings in an industrious way by creating huge canvases, then cutting and draping them in galleries to sell – some of the draped canvases would even be on models walking around in the gallery.
A similarly chauvinistic though more violent example are the paintings by feminist artist Niki de Saint Phalle on view. The paintings are shooting paintings where she loaded paintings with sacks of color, then proceeded to shoot the works. These are works of this artist I was unaware of, knowing mostly her brightly colored works such as her Hon (through her sex), from Moderna Museet Stockholm, 1966, and her collage sculptures made with cheap plastic objects of “womanhood”.
Missed in the exhibit are the beautiful pieces by Yves Klein performance pieces, Anthropométrie , where he painted nude women in his beautiful Yves Klein Blue and directed them onto canvases for an indelible imprint. Also not included, most obviously for taste purposes, is a hilarious video called “The Painter” by Paul McCarthy. It is a completely scatological and perverted video performance of an artist painting in his studio, a talk show interview with the artist and gallery visit. It is a parody of painting as performance. If you can stomach the film to the end (its really, really gross and 40 plus minutes) the denouement includes a brilliant studio visit by dealer and collector – if you’ve ever partaken in this artist ritual of studio visit, either as dealer, collector or artist it’s pretty funny, and will make you laugh, but not for the faint of heart. Alas – the performance speaks more than a painting could in this case. Important to note that McCarthy is reacting to the abstract expressionists that his generation was recovering from, and that he is a mentor and collaborator of James Franco – the budding ex-painter (?) performance artist.
I’m glad they chose the detail of the British artist David Hockney’s piece as PR to draw the viewer into the Tate’s show, its pretty and blue. The relationship of painting and performance is a complex one, and not always so pleasant. They are very alike on many levels, and yet the viewer and the artist try continually to separate the two. I think they are the same, and because one is missing an object, we feel compelled to define them as different. In a museum context, is it possible that painting and performance become two great tastes that might not taste so great together?
Niki in front of finished ‘shooting painting’, 1961 , from Niki de Saint Phalle by Pontus Hulten, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1992
Niki de Saint Phalle, Hon (through her sex), from Moderna Museet Stockholm, 1966
Tagged: James Franco, Marina Abromovic, Niki de Saint Phalle, painting, Paul McCarthy, performance art, Tate Modern, Yves Klein
David Hockney, A Bigger Splash, 1967, detail, courtesy of the artist and Tate Modern