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January 28–May 9, 2011

The Robert and Joyce Menschel Photography Gallery, third floor

Performance art is generally experienced live, but what documents it and ensures its enduring life is, above all, photography. Yet photography plays a constitutive role, not merely a documentary one, when performance is staged expressly for the camera (often in the absence of an audience), and the images that result are recordings of an event but also autonomous works of art. The pictures in this exhibition, selected from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, exemplify the complex and varied uses artists have devised for photography in the field of performance since the 1960s.

Many artists have experimented with the camera to test the physical and psychological limits of the body. Not all performances exert such dire demands on the body, although many have entailed a sustained emotional engagement on the part of the artists: Bas Jan Ader photographed himself crying for the camera, and Adrian Piper used photography to chronicle a physical and mental state induced by fasting and writing in isolation.

Adrian Piper
Food for the Spirit. 1971.
Gelatin silver prints, printed 1997, 14 1/2 x 14 3/4″ (36.8 x 37.5 cm) each.

Some artists enlisted the camera as an accomplice in experiments with identity.Vito Acconci used photography to record and then reflect on his attempts to feminize his body by plucking his body hair and hiding his genitals between his legs; and Lorna Simpson turned to the photographic archive as source material, combining found 1950s pinups with her own performative self-portraits, in which she emulates the poses, outfits, and settings of the earlier photographs.

Lorna Simpson
May, June, July, August ‘57/’09 #8
2009. Gelatin silver prints, 5 x 5″ (12.7 x 12.7 cm) each

The exhibition also presents political dissent enacted with the photograph in mind. Ai Weiwei took pictures of his hand, middle finger extended, in gestures of disrespect toward national monuments typically photographed by tourists, and Robin Rhode appears to interact with objects drawn in charcoal on dilapidated walls, exploring rites of consumerism and dispossession in his native South Africa.

Ai Weiwei
Study of Perspective – Eiffel Tower. 1995–2003. Top right: Ai Weiwei. Study of Perspective – Mona Lisa. 1995–2003. Bottom left: Ai Weiwei. Study of Perspective – Tiananmen Square. 1995–2003. Bottom right: Ai Weiwei. Study of Perspective – White House.
1995–2003. Gelatin silver prints, 15 5/16 x 23 1/4″ (38.9 x 59 cm) each.

Staging Action attests to the complex ways in which photography, with its ability to both freeze and extend a moment in time, pushes against the grain of mere documentation to constitute performance as a conceptual exercise that can be appreciated in the absence of a performing body.

Selected Artists:

1. Ana Mendieta

Untitled (Facial Cosmetic Variations)
January–February 1972
Chromogenic color prints, printed 1997, 19 1/4 x 12 3/4" (48.9 x 32.4 cm) each

2. Bruce Nauman

Studies for Holograms
1970. Portfolio of five screenprints,20 5/16 x 26" (51.6 x 66 cm) each

3. Rong Rong

East Village, Beijing, No. 8
1995. Zhang Huan performs Metal Case, Beijing, June 1995. Gelatin silver prints, 21 3/16 x 14 1/2" (53.8 x 36.8 cm) each.

4. Rong Rong

East Village, Beijing, No. 81. 1994. Zhu Ming performs in Beijing, September 1994. Gelatin silver print, 21 3/16 x 13 1/8" (53.8 x 33.3 cm).

5. Valie Export

Action Pants: Genital Panic
1969. Screenprints, 26 3/8 x 19 5/8" (67 x 49.8 cm) each.

6. Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman.

Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman.
1980. Chromogenic color prints, 15 x 23" (38.1 x 58.5 cm) each.

7. Lucas Samaras

Auto Polaroid
1969–71. Black-and-white instant prints, 3 3/4 x 2 15/16" (9.5 x 7.4 cm) each

8. Matthew Barney

Cremaster 3: Gary Gilmore
2002. Chromogenic color print in plastic frame. 53 1/2 x 43 1/2" (135.9 x 110.5 cm).

9. Laurel Nakadate

Lucky Tiger #151. 2009. Top right: Laurel Nakadate. Lucky Tiger #169. 2009. Bottom left: Laurel Nakadate. Lucky Tiger #181. 2009. Bottom right: Laurel Nakadate. Lucky Tiger #186.
2009. Chromogenic color prints with ink fingerprints, 4 x 6" (10.2 x 15.2 cm) each.

10. William Pope.L

william pope
Foraging (The Air Itself/Dark Version)
1995. Iris print, printed 2001, 34 1/2 x 31 1/2" (87.6 x 80 cm).

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