Performance Art

By Lydiate, Henry | Art Monthly, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Performance Art

Lydiate, Henry, Art Monthly

In 1964 Joseph Beuys gave an improvised 30-minute performance broadcast live on Germany's second public television channel ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen), which he called Marcel Duchamp's Silence Is Overrated. The performance was not taped but Beuys allowed his associate and renowned art documenter Manfred Tischer (1925-2008) to photograph it. Tischer's 19 photographs are the only record of Beuys's unique live performance; they remained unpublished until 2008 when they were exhibited at the Museum Schloss Moylander (located within Moyland Castle, Bedburg-Hau, Germany) which holds the world's largest collection of Beuys works. Last year that exhibition was abruptly curtailed by a temporary court order requiring the photographs to be taken down, pending a full trial of a legal claim that the images violated Beuys's intellectual property rights.

The lawsuit was brought against the museum by VG Bild-Kunst, Germany's artists' copyright collecting society, acting on behalf of Eva Beuys, who inherited her husband's copyrights on his death in 1986. The trial ended in September 2010 when the Higher Regional Court in Dusseldorf gave its final judgment confirming the claim and permanently ordering Tischer's images not to be exhibited by the museum.

In most countries, including the UK, original works of creative artists (of all kinds--composers, writers, filmmakers, choreographers, visual artists and so on) qualify for copyright protection only if they are fixed in a material form (such as sound recordings, manuscripts, films or videos, and physically manifest visual artworks). Beuys's 1964 performance was improvised (and therefore had not been performed or fixed in a material form via film or tape before the live broadcast) and the only record of it is Tischer's 19 photographs. Nevertheless, the court appears to have ruled that Beuys's entire performance--though transient and unfixed--was an artwork entitled to copyright and moral rights protection, and that the exhibition of Tischer's 19 freeze-frame-like photographs was an unlawful adaptation of the entire work of performance art.

The court's decision has been hailed as a landmark because it made an unprecedented ruling--not only in Germany, but worldwide--that unrecorded/undocumented performance art is capable of being protected by copyright and moral rights laws. An authorised English translation of the judgment is not yet available, but media reports of the court's reasoning appear to include the following.

Circumstantial evidence in the form of an assessment by experts can prove the existence of an entire performance, from which the court could gain an overall impression and find that an intellectual creation of the artist was made. Improvised actions are protected by copyright when they reach the required threshold of originality. The essence of this artform would be frustrated if art activities were denied the status of art on the grounds that they were essentially based on improvisation. German copyright law allows new forms of art beyond the boundaries of traditional artforms to be protected, and such protection covers the work as a whole. It is not necessary for a work to be recorded permanently so that it is capable of being reproduced. The entire performance lasted at least 20 minutes; the 19 photographs are only snapshots of the work and, thereby, transform a dynamic art process into stasis. The museum exploited an adaptation of the entire performance, without permission of the legal successor to the creator, and was contrary to copyright law.

Since the development of machines and technology to record and reproduce sounds and moving images towards the end of the 19th century, intellectual property laws were introduced and developed throughout the 20th century to give intellectual property rights to public performers of music, drama, dance or literature: conventionally known as the performing arts. Such performers were given an array of legal rights: to prevent their performances being audio and/or visually recorded without their prior consent; to license the public performance of recordings to which they had consented; and to prevent distortion or changes to such authorised recordings. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Performance Art


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.