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  • Theatre, Exhibition, and Curation: Displayed & Performed by Georgina Guy
  • Bryony White
THEATRE, EXHIBITION, AND CURATION: DISPLAYED & PERFORMED. By Georgina Guy. Routledge Advances in Theatre and Performance Studies. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2016; pp. 212.

In Theatre, Exhibition, and Curation: Displayed & Performed Georgina Guy examines visual art that challenges the ontology of performance. Exploring the place of performance in the space of exhibition history, she moves through a consideration of performance in alternative guises, focusing on how visual art institutions are now utilizing performance practices and dynamics as a mode of display. Guy notes that “until recently, performance has most often entered the art museum via its documents which can more easily be accommodated within gallery and collection systems.” Refusing to consider performance objects as simple evidentiary traces, she argues that “an alternative conceptualisation of the connection between performance and object is needed” (8). To do so she traces a lineage of particular modes of performance, dating from 2007 to the opening of Tate’s Tanks in 2012. Throughout her book Guy suggests that an expansion of the terms performance and object might complicate established paradigms. The object is no longer simply a trace of an event past, but instead proffers an expanded understanding of the mutually constitutive and dynamized relation between performance and display.

This book comes at a time when most global collecting institutions—the Tate, MoMA, and FRAC Lorraine, to name but a few—have their own performance departments, as well as widely popular performance programs. While remaining interested in the phenomenon of performance programing, Guy focuses instead on a broader set of practices in which curators and artists employ “theatricality” as an “optic” or “directive.” The six chapters trace a dynamic path through the theatricalized exhibition, with each chapter exploring specific case studies with the view of offering an alternative ontology of performance by the book’s conclusion. In chapter 1, “Performer & Exhibit: Theatrical Conditions,” Guy explores role-reversals of exhibition and performance, addressing the repositioning of a live performer within a gallery setting and of sculptural objects onstage in front of an audience. “Theatre & Gallery: Turning Away from Performance” (chapter 2) juxtaposes two landmark exhibitions at the Courtauld Gallery and Tate Modern, suggesting the idea of theatricality as an optic through which the curatorial concept is filtered. Examining Trisha Donnelly’s The Redwood and the Raven at the Tate, Guy argues that such a piece works against “the ubiquity of the autonomous art object” (56). Indeed, quoting Rebecca Schneider and taking into account the Tate’s curatorial choices, Guy argues that these images might be conceived of as “disturbingly on [End Page 436] going” rather than simply static images (81). In her third chapter, “Visitor & Performer: The Return of the Relational,” Guy discusses what she calls a contemporary return to “relational aesthetics,” with a focus on the position of the visitor. This chapter and the next, “Gesture & Object: Digital Display and Arrested Attention,” place emphasis on the visitor’s agency, seeking to question what it means to attend an exhibition, exploring “traditional ideologies of conservation and curation wherein alternative arrangements of body and object can be imagined and repositioned” (24). The monograph concludes with an incisive consideration of remote access, digital technologies, and encounters that decenter traditional conceptions of viewing and looking.

Guy’s second chapter forms the core of her argument. The chapter takes on Renoir at the Theatre: Looking at La Loge at the Courtauld Gallery in 2007 and The World as a Stage at Tate Modern in 2007–08, both of which are explicitly concerned with questions of performance, but are physically manifested through an exploration of material objects. Taking into account the work of Philip Auslander, Peggy Phelan, and Schneider, the chapter marks a sharp shift from discourses of liveness to a reconsideration of materiality. Guy uses these exhibitions to undo ontological, historical, and formal distinctions that have sedimented around performance, using each exhibition to imagine how performance might enable us to rethink, reconceptualize, and reorient what “constitutes performance as occasion and as practice” (71).

As part of this inquiry she argues for the concept of live objecthood, which might be defined as the mutually constitutive relationship between the object and...