The term ‘Performance Arts’ made its appearance in the early1970s, but the genre has had its evolution much earlier than that. In general, it encompasses a wide variety of styles, including body art, actions, live theater and poetry, among other things. In the early 1950s, artist Allan Kaprow, coined the term “Happenings”, by which performance arts were more popular.
The origins of performance arts as a form date back to the early 1900s. ‘Cabaret Voltaire’ was a club which interpreted avant-garde and experimental art on the upper floor of a Switzerland theater. It is also closely tied to the avant-garde movement — including futurism, an art movement centered in Italy; and Fluxus, a movement that emerged in the late 1950s and included artists like Marcel Duchamp and John Cage.
In an attempt to revolutionize culture, the futurists created performative evenings of poetry, music, and distilled dramatic presentations. Elements of this movement would go on to be refined by artists in the DADA movement, a nihilistic and anti-aesthetic arts movement that took place in Switzerland, New York City, Berlin, Cologne, and Paris. Both movements capitalized on the value of shock and outrage. By 1970, performance art had become a global term to encompass art that was live and not theater.
The evolution of Performance arts happened in the early 1970s and ’80s. The reason? The decline of modernism and abstract expressionism in the early 1960s. This period focuses on the body as well as the distancing from traditional media. The work also followed the rise of feminist art and anti-war activism. Over the years, artists working with more conventional forms of art—like painting or sculpture—have used performance art to rejuvenate their work. Additionally, the work has since found its place in a fine arts context, alongside contemporary art within conventional museums and galleries.
There are a lot of sub-categories within the range of performance arts. From poetry and music, to visuals and experimental theatre, or even, many times combination of two or more. Usually, a performance varies on medium and more than one artist participate. A performance art piece may include painting, sculpture, dialogue, poetry, music, dance, opera, film footage, laser lights, fire, television sets, live animals, or any other variable the artist may want to include. The piece may also be spontaneous or rehearsed, performed on a small scale or as a large spectacle.
Over the years there are some notable performances dating from the late 60s, up to today. Some of them are: ”I Like America and America Likes Me” (1974) by Joseph Beuys, ”VB67” (2011) by Vanessa Beecroft, ”Following Piece” (1969) by Vito Acconci.
Also, there are countless artists which one can check out when researching performance arts. The most famous being Maria Abramovic, known for her performance ‘The Artist is Present’ (2010). During this performance, Abramovic sat at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), allowing patrons to sit across from her and engage in a silent conversation. The latter performance is vividly remembered in the art world. Her former partner, Ulay, who lived with her for 12 years before the artistic duo went their separate ways, attended the MoMA performance and sat across from her. The two hadn’t spoken in 20 years prior to that moment.
We should also mention Allan Kaprow, Joan Jonas, Chris Burden, Carolee Schneemann. The latter is a painter who turned into performance art. She centered many of her works around her own body. Can a nude woman be both the image and the artist? The evolution of Performance arts will continue with posing these questions.