The current Thing of the Day on Jellypress (a beautiful blog on old recipes, art, and ideas) is not a thing at all, but a performance. Nancy discusses a NY Times piece on Tino Sehgal who “shows objectless, undocumented live pieces in museums and galleries.”
Apparently art critics are agog at (oh, all right, maybe not agog, but taking seriously as a new concept), the idea of an artist making objectless and unrecorded art. Nancy makes a parallel with cooking, which is equally ephemeral. But surely much art, for most of time, has been ephemeral – song, dance, poetry, storytelling, drama. The work was carried only in memory – of the performers and of the audience.
The Times piece says “working only with human clay, he can call forth thoughtful and visceral responses from people who remain unmoved by more conventional paintings and sculptures.” Playwrights and bards have done this for millennia. And on the other hand, there are those who remain unmoved by mime or speech or song who are moved by sight. Some people are more moved by music, or speech, or sculpture, painting, or the movement of light and water in nature. A comparison across media owes as much to the audience as the artist.
Again “Sehgal is adamant that he is producing a work of art, not theater: unlike a performance, a Sehgal is on display for the entire time the institution is open, and the human actors are identified no more precisely than as if they were bronze or marble.” I fail to see how the duration or interval changes a piece from a performance to a work, nor the anonymity or not of the actors. Is a film shown once a day a performance, but a film loop a work? In many times and places, the individual identities of the actors (and indeed characteristics we find essential, like gender) were irrelevant.
Perhaps most of my impatience with high culture is its belief that elaborate conceptual frames, rather than content, create meaning and value.