Painting Game; Tate Modern's New Exhibition Shows How Performance Art's Playfulness Inspired Artists to Put Themselves Centre-Stage

The Evening Standard (London, England), October 24, 2012 | Go to article overview

Painting Game; Tate Modern's New Exhibition Shows How Performance Art's Playfulness Inspired Artists to Put Themselves Centre-Stage


Byline: Ben Luke

PAINTING and performance art are not the most obvious bedfellows. How could the spectacle of Marina Abramovic repeatedly cutting herself, Chris Burden having himself shot in the arm or Gilbert and George standing on tables, painted gold and singing Underneath the Arches relate to the painter alone in his or her studio? Indeed, when Allan Kaprow, a founder of performance art, wrote in 1958 about the vast works of Jackson Pollock, with their dripped and flung paint, he said artists had two choices: they could continue in Pollock's vein without taking the medium anywhere new, or "give up the making of paintings entirely" and turn to performance.

A new show opening next month at Tate Modern, A Bigger Splash, argues that, in fact, the two have long been intertwined. As part of recently arrived Tate Modern director Chris Dercon's plans to show the gallery's collection in a new light, the exhibition takes two well-loved Tate paintings as its launchpads -- Pollock's elegantly woven Summertime: Number 9A (1948) and David Hockney's sun-drenched masterpiece, A Bigger Splash (1967).

What follows shows the great shifts in post-war painting. Artists in that era renewed the attack on painting that began with Cubism and abstraction in the early 20th century, but this time in more violent ways. The horror of the Second World War prompted artists to attack the canvas and bring it down from its elevated position as high art to engage more with everyday life.

Painting also became a stage set for performances and a mobile entity, wrested from the canvas and applied to the human body. Using the human figure as a canvas has thrust performance art from the avant-garde into the mass media -- Madonna and Lady Gaga's visual stunts and identity warping would be unthinkable without the visceral shock of performance artists before them.

But even after all the assaults and challenges, painting remains an essential route for artists to create their own worlds. In that sense, it is doing much the same as it has always done but, harnessed to new media, it looks very different. A Bigger Splash argues that, rather than sounding a death knell for painting, performance art has given this venerable activity a new lease of life.

Here, we introduce five key works in the exhibition that entangle painting and performance in radical, often surprising ways.

A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance is at Tate Modern, SE1 (020 7887 8888, tate.org.uk) from November 14 until April 1, 2013. Open Sun-Thurs 10am-6pm, Fri-Sat 10am-10pm. Admission [pounds sterling]10 (concs available).

? BODY ART NEW CANVASES Lynn Hershman Roberta Construction Chart #1 (1975) IN the Sixties and Seventies, artists pushed the definition of painting to the limits and "paint" essentially became any material that covers, masks or changes the appearance of things. This extended to the human body and to drag and make-up. American artist Lynn Hershman constructed a character, Roberta Breitmore, based on images from the media, and lived a double life as herself and Roberta for four years. Using photographs taken by private detectives and documents including medical records, Hershman minutely detailed Roberta's existence. Hershman has described Roberta as "a composite of all those stereotypes that people had at that time", and Roberta Construction Chart #1 gives details of how to recreate her alter-ego's appearance.

. photo finish PAINT ON PRINT Helena Almeida Inhabited Painting (1976) PORTUGUESE artist Helena Almeida's series of Inhabited Paintings are a halfway point between performance and painting. …

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