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BETWEEN THE COVERS with Tony Whitfield In the concluding paragraph of the foreword to Performance:Live Art 1909 to the Present RoseLee Goldberg states, ". . . this first history inevitably works itself free of its material, because that material continues to raise questions about the very nature of art . . . it pursues the development of a sensibility. The goal of this book is to raise questions and to gain new insights ." Performancesucceeds in achieving that goal. Given, however, the absence of a major historical work on the growth of the medium, this is not an astounding feat. Performance art, which Goldberg cautiously gives the loose definition of "live art by artists," has always been predicated upon the necessity for challenges to and reevaluation of the "academy," and by extension , the world in general. The experimental nature of performance itself demands questions, dialogue and commentary through its active engaging and manipulation of an audience. To successfully deal with this material, one must first attempt to accurately reconstitute the conceptual nature of the inquiry intrinsic to specific works with regard to both its physical structure and the historical context in which it is posited. In chapters organized roughly in chronological order Goldberg attempts to do this. Beginning with Futurist "manifesto-like 30 events" Performance discusses its Russian counterpart and then moves on, giving equal time to Constructivist "production art," Dadaist cabaret in Zurich, the Bauhaus theatre/performarnce workshop and the post WWII years in Europe and America, focusing on Cage, Cunningham and the Black Mountain College, Happenings , Fluxus, Ann Halprin, The Judson Dance group, and Europe-based activities of Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, and Joseph Beuys, ending with a final chapter on performance in the seventies. Throughout Goldberg describes the content of the work and locates it within the general frameworks of performance trends and socio-political climate. What is lacking here, however, is a certain depth of analysis which seems to have been sacrificed in the interest of maintaining the lively pace of Goldberg's march through history. In a work of this type, which is at pains to be concise and well-illustrated, not unlike a "Time/Life Library Book," there is no time to dawdle, and consequently little room for the diversions of scholarly elaboration or critical theorizing. This book is designed to carry popular appeal (whether or not that is possible is debatable ). Yet its approach to that end is rather academic. For this reviewer, in a book that discusses the most eclectic of art media, a text which allowed itself the freedom to seriously examine inter-media relationships on historical and conceptual grounds would have been more than welcome . When the necessity to do so was inescapable , as in the case of Dada and surrealist performance, Goldberg delves into those areas of intellectual exploration. For the most part, particularly in discussing the post-WWII years, her approach is formally descriptive and historically linear. She begins to codify the performance medium to a point of misleading separation from the influences of concurrent developments in other art forms, forms in which most performance artists are also deeply involved, such as painting, sculpture, film, video, literature, etc. While Performance successfully underlines the significant length of the live art phenomenon, it does not by any means encompass its breadth. But could that have been expected from a "first history"? Obviously not. It does, however, lay the groundwork for future studies. Luckily for Goldberg and the writers who will take up the challenge of future histories , the seventies have produced ample documentation of performance in forms ranging from videotapes and records to magazine coverage and anthologies. Of the latter, two recent publications illustrate Philippe Dutarte riug versucn, 3" rertormance, utto mueni, the difficulties facing the writer who attempts to present a broad assessment of this period. Putting aside the most obvious problem in working from documentation of ephemeral material-that it is only a surrogate for the live work - one must keep in mind that these works were brought together in catalogue or anthological form (and often documented with that end in mind) with specific goals other than simply recording performance activity. In issue 10/11 (Spring 1980) of The Dumb Ox, artists/editors Allan...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 30-32
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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