A BRIEF HISTORY OF PERFORMANCE ART

by Jack Bowman

 NEW FOR 2001.  UPDATED 2006.  Teaching Performance Art in a Public School and College

We could say that performance art originated when the first human moved a body part for some reason other than the necessities of life. However, that person is definitely lost in prehistory. So the way I trace it is to when did it begin in something near its present form. To find this we have to find civilization in its near present form. This is the turn of the century.

The guys that get credit for it are the Futurist (an art movement) around 1908. Its leader was Marinetti. Marinetti was actually a poet. But one of the great beauties of Performance Art is that it has a place for poets, as well as visual artist and sound artist and theater artist. Its true wealth comes from the fact that it incorporates all the great disciplines of the intellectual world. Site for Futurist Manifesto of 1908 http://www.gru.com/library/ref/manifest.htm

Performance has always shifted toward the sensual and Valentine De Saint Saint-Point wrote the Futurist Manifesto of Lust. A female performer.  Next came the DADA. They are the true beauties of the art world. They were a small group of people that met for only a few months at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich Switzerland in 1916. They were essentially nobody people that changed the way the world looked at art forever. Hitler mentioned the Dada in his Mein Kampf. (negatively of course). Although not in Zurich one of the major performers was Benjamin Franklin Wedekind or Frank Wedekind of Germany. Of the Zurich dada's there was Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings.

In the 1920's prior to W.W.II there was the German Bauhaus. One performer to come from this was Schlemmer.

In the 1930's there was Black Mountain College, in North Carolina. Major performers were John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller. Be aware most these people are know for something else but all participated in performance art.

In the late 50's there was Kaprow's Happenings. Happenings were performance art. They had a really good run through the 60's. There was Robert Morris, performed in 1965 There was Yves Klein in late 50's and 60. creator of Klein blue. Joseph Beuys was associated with an art movement called Fluxus. It was very much performance art oriented. John Lennon's wife Yoko Ono was a performance artist associated with the Fluxus.

Performance Art took on political issues during the 70's and was kept alive during the 80's by what is called "Queer Theater". Usually in gay nightclubs dealing with Homosexual issues.

The 90's may have been its golden age. It came out of gay clubs and begin to deal with other issues of philosophical importance. We are at the end of the 90's. It probably will not die and its enlightened age may still be to come.

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