A Short History of Performance

A Short History of Performance at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in April 2002 presented a short but explosive season of performance, re-presenting key works, many for the first time, performed live by some of the most significant performance artists of the late twentieth century. It was curated by Andrea Tarsia and organised by Tamsin Dillon. 

The series opened on Monday 15 April with a symposium, 'Reading Performance Art, Then till Now'

'A Short history of Performance privileges the live event - to once again bring the work in direct relation to an audience'  - Iwona Blazwick, Director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

A Short History of Performance - Programme

Carolee Schneemann

Meat Joy Tuesday 16 April

Meat Joy was first performed by Carolee Schneemann with other performers in May 1964 at the Festival of Free Expression at the Centre Americain in Paris organised by Jean-Jacques Lebel. It was then performed twice again that year in Vauxhall in London in June and at the Judson Church in New York in November. At the Whitechapel Schneemann re-created the work with a group of volunteers and she herself performed, although in a different role to her original one. Meat Joy is a part-improvised performance with music, light, food and paint.

Stuart Brisley

Beneath Dignity Wednesday 17 April

Beneath Dignity was performed once in 1977 in Bregenz Austria for Englische Kunst der Gegenwart and was the culmination of Brisley's 18 months spent in Peterlee, a new town created for mining communities in County Durham in the north of England, as part of his work with the Artists' Placement Group. In the work Brisley travels across the Gallery and back through five frames made of of wood and string, the first frame is empty, the others contain chalk pieces, chalk powder, black paint and white paint in succession. This performance at the Whitechapel was one of the first occasions on which Brisley has performed a work for a second time.

The Bernsteins

Death to Grumpy Grandads Thursday 18 April

The Kipper Kids

Your Turn to Roll It No. 54 Thursday 18 April

The Bernsteins was a group of artists based in and named after a disused East London chemists shop. They were Anne Bean, Peter Davey, Malcolm Jones, Jonathan Harvey, Chris Miller, Brian Routh and Martin von Haselberg. Their performances start from simple premises which are then extended by improvisation and audience participation, both willing and unwilling and sometimes unknowing. Death to Grumpy Grandads was first performed in 1973 and involves the performers laughing for one hour, timed by an alarm clock. When the Bernsteins dissolved in 1974, von Haselberg and Routh formed the Kipper Kids taking a more theatrical approach to performance incorporating elements of Commedia dell'Arte. At the Whitechapel they presented one of these comical works.

Hermann Nitsch

Lecture Action Friday 19 April

Hermann Nitsch, one of the Viennese Actionist artists, has used an amalgam of Greek, Pagan and early Christian rituals in his work since the late 1950s in his Orgies-Mysteries Theatre. His first Action took place in 1962 and he has continued to develop the Actions and the Orgies-Mysteries Theatre as both small performances and the much larger festivals organised at Prinzdorf, his castle in Austria.

Bruce McLean

There's a Sculpture on My Shoulder Saturday 20 April


Pose Work for Plinths


Bruce McLean presented both these works at the Situation Gallery, London in 1970. In There's a Sculpture on my Shoulder McLean assumed a series of kneeling poses as a plinth beneath a series of projected slide-show images of works by Anthony Caro and the New Generation sculptors. In Pose Work for Plinths McLean arranged himself across three plinths, borrowed from the Tate Gallery, in parodies of Henry Moore sculptures. In 1970 there was a third work in this vein called Interview Sculpture, later repeated as Impresarios of the Art World, where McLean responded to questions about current sculptors from artists Gilbert and George with pose parodies.

Jannis Kounellis

Untitled (Twelve Horses) Sunday 21 April

Jannis Kounellis' Untitled, where twelve horses of varying breeds were tethered to the gallery wall, was first shown at Galleria L'Attico in Rome in 1969 and superbly captured on camera by Claudio Abate. The work was reconstructed a second time for the 37th Venice Biennale in 1976 and for a third time at the Whitechapel.

The Felix Trust for Art was the principal financial supporter of this series with additional support from the Arts Council of England, who also support the Gallery, the Great Eastern Hotel and the Live Art Development Agency.

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Copyright The Felix Trust for Art, 2004