At her talk at the School of Art on Monday, art historian curator and critic RoseLee Goldberg presented an abridged history of performance art, from the founding of the Futurism movement in 1909 to the present. Goldberg — the author of “Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present,” a leading text in the study of performance art — is widely known in academia as an authority on the subject of performance art. She holds degrees in political science and fine arts from Wits University in Johannesburg and has also studied history of art at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. An Goldberg is also the founder of Performa, a New York-based non-profit arts organization that investigates the impact of live performance in the past century and works to develop new forms for the medium. The News sat down with Goldberg following the talk to ask a few questions on the much debated genre of performance art.
Q Performance art elicits varying reactions from artists and non-artists alike. Do you think performance art is stigmatized in any way in comparison to other more traditional forms of art, like painting or sculpture?
A I think most of the art of the 20th century is quite difficult, starting with Duchamp and everybody else. I don’t think that people get upset with performance art in particular.
Q Why do say art in the past century has been difficult? What makes this the case?
A Art in general has been something that is quite difficult in the 20th century — I think performances have been more difficult because they don’t help people get close.
Q During your talk, you mentioned the use of performance art as a means of political activism in past decades. Do you think that artists today are using art in the same way?
A I am not sure if art is political at the moment. I think they were at the ’60s and ’70s. I think that everybody actually thinks of performance art as [a political medium]. It was more political in the ’60s and ’70s when everybody was political but I don’t necessarily see it now as only being that. It changed in time because I believe that nowadays people are doing a lot more general things.
Q In your talk you said that performance art can trace its roots to communal rituals and tribe ceremonies. Why do you think this is the case? Does this enable people to relate more readily to performance art? Does that make it more interactive that other art forms?
A It is definitely more interactive than other forms and I think that people are getting excited about that. The museums are doing more [performance art] and I think that people go to the museums and they want to interact more with the artists, so I think we will see more of that than before.
Q Performance art allows the use of different media. Artists are able to use not only conventional materials like paint and film but they can also use their own voices and bodies in their art. How do you think this impacts performance art?
A I think performance art is very much about the artist and it makes it very accessible because people can identify more with the artist.
Correction: November 18, 2010
An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to RoseLee Goldberg as an active artist as well as a performing artist. Goldberg is a curator, critic and art historian of performance art.