By Jones, Amelia
Artforum International , Vol. 32, No. 3
From the late '50s to the present, performance-oriented body art has radically displayed and enacted the artist in/as the work itself. This excellent exhibition, organized by Craig Krull, explored the photographic documents that memorialize these performative acts. The hundred or so images ranged from the modest (Vito Acconci's tiny vintage prints of himself rubbing his body against a sooty wall), to the pretentious (Hermann Nitsch's gory color photographs of naked men covered with animal blood and hoisted up on crucifixes), to the understated sublime (Carolee Schneemann's elegant grid of uncanny, erotic photographs of bodily orifices and protrusions).
The wide range of photographic images of body and performance art raised central questions. Who authors these images? Are the images spontaneous or staged? Are they "art objects" or "documents" or both? What is the role of photography in art projects that are quintessentially narrative and diachronic in nature? What, finally, does it mean that the performance movement, which presumably aimed at least in part to subvert the commodification of the art object, is now itself in the process of being commodified and historicized--its documentary objects hung in a gallery and sold for substantial prices?
Ranging from casual snapshots (Acconci), to conceptual documents (John Baldessari, Dan Graham), to life-sized photographic tableaux (Paul McCarthy), the images presented here projected varying degrees of esthetic pretensions. Some were identified primarily through the name of the artist responsible for staging the action. Other images were labeled as authored by a separate photographer, who thus competes as artistic subject. Most of the images included the artist her- or himself in action; some, such as Mike Kelley's deliberately sordid and juvenile pictures of a man jamming a stuffed animal up his feces-smeared butt, pictured others doing the dirty work. …