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Art Performance San Francisco William Kleb In 1970, Tom Marioni, a San Francisco sculptor who had recently resigned as curator of the Richmond Art Center after presenting a number of controversial exhibitions (such as Terry Fox's Levitation), opened his (and Fox's) studio to the public and called it MOCA - the Museum of Conceptual Art. Located in a shabby section of downtown - at 86 Third Street from 1970-72 and then across the street in an industrial space that had been occupied for fifty years by a printing company - MOCA has provided a focal point for art performance in the San Francisco area as well as an important West Coast stop for touring artists working in the field. As of the moment, however, MOCA is in "a phasing out stage," its building scheduled to fall before a redevelopment Juggernaut. Meanwhile, Marioni is struggling to have the building declared an historical monument and is emphasizing the museum's role in the preservation of a "collection" of artifacts and documents from past events. Even if Marioni succeeds, and the odds are heavily against him, MOCA's days as a "performance space" appear to be over: "There isn't a need to do it anymone," he declared in a recent interview .1 Indeed, according to MOCA's curator, the form itself has "become academic. . . a part of the academy." Eras are short in the twentieth century, as everyone knows, and Marioni's comments, and the situation at MOCA, certainly seem like the beginning of the end of one. In some ways, a survey of performance art activity locally confirms this assessment. The form has surely penetrated the academy, while related institutions, such as the University Art Museum in Berkeley and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, sponsor individual performance events as well as elaborate series as a matter of course. 40 For instance, Jim Melchert at Berkeley, Howard Fried at the San Francisco Art Institute, Jock Reynolds and Mel Henderson at San Francisco State, William Wiley and Dan Snyder at U.C. Davis, as well as Robert Ashley's Center for Contemporary Music at Mills, have all made this kind of work an important part of local art school curricula and have turned out numbers of second and third generation performance artists who are now contributing to the local scene. Moreover, there seems to be little going on in the field here that is truly experimental, although performance art can still puzzle and even shock the casual museum-goer; the best work seems developmental rather than seminal, and since this involves an awareness of the traditions and conventions of past performance work, it might reasonably be called "academic." More importantly, one senses what Robert Pincus-Witten recently called "a growing tendency towards more traditional conceptions of art typology," even in this traditionally interdisciplinary area. 2 Marioni's insistence on a rigorously exclusive definition of "performance sculpture" in the first issue of Vision indicates this trend, while the increasing popularity of video and film as primary modes for performance artists, rather than mere records, seems also to point in this direction. 3 Indeed, documentary photographs seem to be getting more and more beautiful, and one senses less general discomfort with the presence (and commercial value) of the residual object whether photo, video tape or written text. On the other hand, the political aspects of performance art - the "materialization" of conceptual art as Roselee Goldberg aptly puts it - have always been compromised by an ambiguous relationship to the document; in fact, Marioni's acknowledgement of the primacy of the artifact (many of those at MOCA noncollectable, to be sure, as they are literally part of the walls) seems less a sign of decay than an honest and realistic acceptance of an attitude that has been implicit all along.4 Nor does this necessarily mean that the form is losing its ideological underpinnings ; phenomenological and behavioral concerns have always been more important than an attack on the collectable object. As for the possibility that performance art is becoming "academic," one might argue that, since the thirties at least, modernism, especially that line traceable back through the surrealists to Futurism, Dada and Duchamp, has been...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 40-50
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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