Performance and installation art have become hugely popular topics of conversation in the art world right now, ones which the bigwig art institutions are paying much attention to lately. Beautiful Crime decided to seek the knowledge of an expert about art’s most transient contenders, so we asked Stephanie Rosenthal, chief curator at the Hayward Gallery more about them. Rosenthal recently curated the gallery’s latest show, ‘Art of Change: New Directions in China’ which features performance and installation art from some of China’s best artists, who are also some of the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking experts in these newly revisited genres.
Rosenthal is an experienced curator, who has explored in depth, the relationship between visual art and performance. She has curated numerous shows and previously worked on a retrospective of pioneering performance artist, Alan Kaprow, who first coined the phrase, ‘happenings’ which went on to became a popular occurrence in performance art during the 60s.
What was the most interesting and the most challenging part of curating ‘Art of Change: New Directions in China’?
The show focuses on installation and performance art – both are types of works which transform and change during the time period of the exhibition, so that is quite a challenging task. We have to take the risk of not knowing how they are going to look, or appear – it’s a highly experiential exhibition so the improvisational aspect of the exhibition is certainly the most testing. With painting or sculpture, you know what you’re getting and how long for!
The most exciting part for me, was how traditional modes of thinking in art have been developed and been made more up to date by this type of art. And visiting China was another wonderful part of putting the show together. The country has such age-old traditions in it’s culture and its politics yet is so forward-thinking in technology and art, and unique in the concepts behind their art.
With both the Hayward and The Tanks at Tate focusing on them, amongst other smaller galleries, why do you think the art world is currently paying more attention to the genres of installation and performance art, particularly art that people can become more involved in and more fully experience and interact with?
There are probably several reasons and one of the most pragmatic reasons is that it came about during the 60′s, when it was the artist’s intention to deny the object, and since then, artists during the 60s have tried to reach out to the institutions. Of course, the driving force for performance artists was about NOT being able to enter the public institutions spaces – they were the avant-garde, underground and experimental artists trying to explore new territory. I think that is somewhat still the case – these works of performance artists are always trying to push the boundaries.
Looking back in art history, it is obvious that these art forms of performance and installation were so crucial for the development of art when you look at action painting and other autonomous forms of art, [Jackson Pollock for example]. Institutions now recognise that they must represent all art forms the more these art forms ask to be noticed, and they try to embrace them. It’s a huge challenge but with the opening of The Tanks at Tate for example, these developments are really opening up something new in the art world. It also raises the question ‘what does it mean for performance art?’ as it was previously an art form which held a status outside of a platform the public had access to.
It’s also raising questions about art as a form not just as an object. It goes against the material value of a work and more and more artists are becoming interested in it. It’s transitory, rotational and never concrete.
How did you choose the artists for ‘Art of Change: New Directions in China’?
I tried to build up a big group of advisors in China from all geographical areas and art backgrounds because it is very easy to end up in one corner of their art world with only one group of artists. I needed to make sure I entered the bigger network. It’s also not a case of ‘look what’s happening in China in the art world’ either: they really are somewhere else and beyond with performance and installation art, and at the forefront of it.
Is their performance and installation art reflective of their routine and culture in China and how does it fit in with a larger, global mentality?
In China, they’ve been doing performance art for over 30 years now, and some Chinese artists are leaders in the field. China is very rooted in traditional thinking and they are used to the concept of change; it is within their national psyche – they are used to having multiple jobs and leading lives where they must be accustomed to constant uncertainty and instability.
I don’t think they have ever been as interested in the object as an art form in the way that the Western art world has: hence their expertise in an art form that deals with change and improvisation makes sense when one considers that their daily lives, society and culture deal with the idea of transience so well – change is natural for the people of China and is of course, an apt focal point at the moment in our global culture, especially with the East and West growing closer to one another. The nature of all our lives is changing just as fast as technology.
What’s next in the pipeline at the Hayward Gallery in terms of performance and installation art?
‘Light Show’ is the next exhibition at The Hayward Gallery and will focus on the experiential and incredible nature of light. It will encourage the viewer to experience the spatial and sensory aspects of the artworks. The show will feature works dating back to the 60s, including works by David Batchelor, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Olafur Eliasson, Dan Flavin, Ceal Floyer, Jenny Holzer, Ann Veronica Janssens, Anthony McCall, François Morellet, Ivan Navarro, Katie Paterson, and Conrad Shawcross. Various lighting technologies will also feature in the show, including neons, LEDS and computer-controlled lighting.
‘Art of Change: New Directions in China’ runs from 7th Sept – 9th Dec 2012. For full details please click here.
‘Light Show’ runs from 30th Jan – 28th April 2013. For more information please click here.