The New Stars of Performance Art


Friday, July 11, 2014

Screenshot of James Franco and Marina Abramović in Iconoclasts Screenshot of James Franco and Marina Abramović in Iconoclasts (Sundance TV/Youtube)

It used to be that if a famous actor wanted to extend their artistic brand, they'd form a rock group. These days, the cool kids who want to be even cooler are taking up performance art. At this year’s South by Southwest, Lady Gaga had an artist vomit soy milk all over her, which she later described as “art in its purest form.” Jay Z performed “Picasso Baby” at a Manhattan art gallery for six hours straight, and Marina Abramović, considered the godmother of performance art, came to dance with him. In another video, Abramović covers James Franco’s body in gold leaf to a soundtrack of spa music.

But what if you’re a full-time performance artist — broke, obscure, getting naked for grant money? Are you bitter about the interlopers, or happy that more people are paying attention to performance art?

“Whenever someone does something weird it’s ‘performance art,’” says Carol Cheh. Cheh is an art critic for LA Weekly and co-curator of the Perform Chinatown festival. “That’s a misperception of the term.” But defining performance art is a challenge, even for a practitioner like Nao Bustamante. “It’s very difficult to describe,” she says, “and maybe that’s what makes it so easy for so many people to enter.” Bustamante might not like what the celebrities are performing, “but they’re doing it,” she says. “It seems like a bunch of crybabies when [artists] stamp their feet and say, “No, no, no! We’re the artists. They’re the celebrities. You stay over here. We’re going to stay over here.”

Park Doing, a philosophy student at Cornell University, finds that celebrity art disrupts our experiences of art and the art world for the better. He was in the crowd for a Shia LaBeouf exhibition in Los Angeles that people lined up to see for days. He never got in. “This breach of worlds was very interesting to me. And the kind of gumption, or entitlement — however you want to say it — did have the effect of this disruption.”

“The fact that these people make bad art is irritating, but that is not really the issue, because bad art is everywhere,” Carol Cheh, the critic, sums up. “The issue really is their level of access. One of my artist friends said, ‘Artists have to work so hard just to get one tiny write-up in one little weekly newspaper and all Shia LaBeouf has to do is sneeze and he’s got the Wall Street Journal.’”

    Music Playlist
  1. Swine
    Artist: Lady Gaga
    Album: Artpop
    Label: Streamline/Interscope

    Live at SXSW

  2. Across the Universe
    Artist: The Beatles
    Album: Let It Be
    Label: Capitol Records
  3. Picasso Baby
    Artist: Jay Z
    Album: Magna Carta... Holy Grail
    Label: Roc Nation / IDJ

    Excerpt from "Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film"

  4. Theme from Work of Art
  5. Theme from The Gong Show
  6. The Man Who Sold The World
    Artist: David Bowie
    Album: The Man Who Sold The World
    Label: Parlophone UK
    Purchase: Amazon


Carolina A. Miranda

Comments [4]

Nellie MacNamara from Los Angeles

You can say that, but these artists are changing the face of the way we evaluate our world. Why did you care enough to respond? And does this make you think of the WAY you see art? Or life? The fact is they are doing it, the attention is there, and they are shaping the conversation we have about...maybe beauty, opinion, action, meaning, time, celebrity, citizenship, and could we.

Just because it's performance art doesn't make it narcissistic.

Jul. 14 2014 10:29 PM
art525 from Park Slope

Whether it's Marina Abramović, Or Franco or Jay Z doing it it's all a big wank. Performance art or conceptual art are the easiest path to a so called "career" in art, the path chosen by lazy wannabees. Kurt I'm disappointed, your show used to be fascinating, the way you would choose a theme and find artists, writers and musicians whose work corresponded to that theme. I remember a great one based on Moby Dick. Now it seems that you just pander to hipsters with the latest and most superficial schtick.

Jul. 14 2014 01:21 PM
Doug Krentzlin from Silver Spring

James Franco, Shia LaBeouf, Jaz Z, and Lady Gaga, four narcissistic, insanely overrated "artists" who, if I never hear their names again, it would be aces with me!

Jul. 12 2014 02:06 PM
Carol Diehl from New York

Just because it's performance doesn't make it art.

Jul. 11 2014 08:49 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.