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This article is about Performance art. For other uses, see Performance

[[Image:BeuysAchberg78.jpg|thumb|Performance artist Joseph Beuys in 1978 :Jeder Mensch ein Künstler — Auf dem Weg zur Freiheitsgestalt des sozialen Organismus - Every person an artist — On the way to the libertarian form of the social organism]]
Performance art is art in which the actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work. It can happen anywhere, at any time, or for any length of time. Performance art can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer's body and a relationship between performer and audience. It is opposed to painting or sculpture, for example, where an object constitutes the work. Performance art traditionally involves the artist and other actors, but works like Survival Research Laboratories' pieces, utilizing robots and machines without people, also occur.

Although performance art could be said to include relatively mainstream activities such as theater, dance, music, and circus-related things like fire breathing, juggling, and gymnastics, these are normally instead known as the performing arts. Performance art is a term usually reserved to refer to a kind of usually avant-garde or conceptual art which grew out of the visual arts. Uniquely, Michel Lotito ("M. Mangetout") made performance out of eating unusual objects.

Oftentimes, there is exists a hierarchy between viewer and artist. With participation art, this wall is broken down and the work of art is now judged by the reaction of the viewer. In other words, the reaction is the deciding factor of the art.


Performance art, as the term is commonly understood, began to be identified in the 1960s with the work of artists such as Yves Klein, Vito Acconci, Hermann Nitsch, Chris Burden, Carolee Schneemann, Yoko Ono, Joseph Beuys, Wolf Vostell and Allan Kaprow, who coined the term happenings. But performance art was certainly anticipated, if not explicitly formulated, by Japan's Gutai group of the 1950s, especially in such works as Atsuko Tanaka's "Electric Dress" (1956) [22976]. In 1970 the British-based pair, Gilbert and George, created the first of their "living sculpture" performances when they painted themselves gold and sang "Underneath The Arches" for extended periods. Alongside pioneering work in video art by Jud Yalkut and others, some performance artists began combining video with other media to create experimental works like those of Chicago's Sandra Binion, who elevated mundane activities like ironing clothes, scrubbing steps, dining and doing laundry into living art. Binion has performed all over the world and is highly regarded as an artist in Europe.

Western cultural theorists often trace performance art activity back to the beginning of the 20th century. Dada for example, provided a significant progenitor with the unconventional performances of poetry, often at the Cabaret Voltairemarker, by the likes of Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara. There were also Russian Futurism artists who could be identified as performance artists f.e. David Burliuk who painted the face for his actions (1910-20).However, there are accounts of Renaissance artists putting on public performances that could be said to be early ancestors to modern performance art. Some performance artists and theorists point to other traditions and histories, ranging from tribal, ritual to sporting and religious events. Performance art activity is not confined to European art traditions; many notable practitioners can be found in the United Statesmarker, Asia, and Latin America.


In performance art, usually one or more people perform in front of an audience. In contrast to the traditional performing arts, performance art is unconventional. Performance artists often challenge the audience to think in new and unconventional ways about theater and performing, break conventions of traditional performing arts, and break down conventional ideas about "what art is," similar to the postmodern art movement. Thus, even though in most cases the performance is in front of an audience, in some cases, the audience becomes the performers. The performance may be scripted, unscripted, or improvisational. It may incorporate music, dance, song, or complete silence.

Roselee Goldberg stated in Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present:

Performance has been a way of appealing directly to a large public, as well as shocking audiences into reassessing their own notions of art and its relation to culture.
Conversely, public interest in the medium, especially in the 1980s, stems from an apparent desire of that public to gain access to the art world, to be a spectator of its ritual and its distinct community, and to be surprised by the unexpected, always unorthodox presentations that the artists devise.
The work may be presented solo or with a group, with lighting, music or visuals made by the performance artist him or herself, or in collaboration, and performed in places ranging from an art gallery or museum to an “alternative space”, a theatre, café, bar or street corner.
Unlike theatre, the performer is the artist, seldom a character like an actor, and the content rarely follows a traditional plot or narrative.
The performance might be a series of intimate gestures or large-scale visual theatre, lasting from a few minutes to many hours; it might be performed only once or repeated several times, with or without a prepared script, spontaneously improvised, or rehearsed over many months.”


Performance art genres include body art, fluxus, happening, action poetry, and intermedia. Some artists, e.g. the Viennese Actionists and neo-Dadaists, prefer to use the terms live art, "action art", intervention or "manoeuvre" to describe their activities. These activities are also sometimes referred to simply as "actions".



  • RoseLee Goldberg, (1998) Performance: Live Art Since 1960, Harry N. Abrams, NY NY
  • Rockwell, John (2004). "Preserve Performance Art?" New York Times. April 30.
  • Smith, Roberta (2005). "Performance Art Gets Its Biennial." New York Times. November 2.
  • RoseLee Goldberg, (2001) Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present (World of Art), Thames & Hudson; Rev Sub edition
  • C. Carr, (1993) On Edge: Performance at the End of the Twentieth Century, Wesleyan
  • Guillermo Gómez-Peña, (2005) Ethno-techno: Writings on performance, activism and pedagogy. Routledge, London.

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