I once heard that if you mix a comedian with a performance artist you would get a joke that no one understands (ha-ha). I should tell you that decoding what a performance means is not the only perplexity of this art: dealing with performance as a commodity is still confusing, even to the most experienced institutions of the art market. But then there's Galeria Vermelho in Sao Paulo, which has, among all other medias, a strong presence in the performance art scene.
Wanting to get to the bottom of this, I sought Marcos Gallon – a dancer, graduate in Philosophy and the head behind Verbo, a week-long performance festival organized by Galeria Vermelho. For one week in July, the gallery exclusively dedicates its program to the performative actions of artists the world over. Surely, Gallon could provide an answer to my every question – if it is even possible.
The Black Sheep Of The Art World
“In 2005, we realized that – at that time – there were no galleries or even institutions adding performance art to their programs,” recalls Gallon about the beginnings of Verbo, “So the festival was really important for the development of this field in the Brazilian art scene. It was established to create a space; a platform so artists from inside and outside of Vermelho could present their performance pieces.”
Is good performance art then an impossible truth, like poetry, like quantum physics? Theoretically possible; physically impossible?
— Guillermo Gómez-Peña (@pochanostra) March 15, 2013
Physically impossible? Maybe. Although a performance piece is pure human action, its materialized stage is finite. Gallon explains: “Performance has an issue because it is not inserted commercially as other media – such as painting, installation or video – because it is not an object; it does not leave a trace. This fact creates a series of obstacles but also brings to the artist – and this is my very personal view – greater freedom because one does not have to deal with the needs and requests of the market. I think performance art is currently still a field where system criticism can happen.”
my bad eating habits as performance art
— Mitch Grassi (@mitchgrassi) February 24, 2013
Ok, can we stop using performance art as an explanation for our miserable lives? And speaking of bad eating habits, Gallon says it was never their intention to democratize performance art and have it occur even at McDonald’s, for example. Still, the change in São Paulo’s art scene from 2005 to 2013 is clear on both viewers and institutions.
“I think most institutions are more prepared to receive, acquire and store these records and to deal with the possibility of re-enacting these actions. In addition, I also think that the galleries started to admit artists that work with this kind of support. And as a result, I realize that the big fairs have performance actions within their programs—not to mention that currently there are several platforms similar to Verbo throughout Brazil.”
I just scooped my cat's poop into a bag from a fancy boutique in Paris. It felt like performance art.
— Buck 65 (@Buck65) March 27, 2013
So what does it mean to own a piece of performance art? Will I pay to have someone in my house cleaning the litter box? Well, no. This example is not even real, but still, no. When an art collector or an institution buys a performance piece, they are actually buying its documentation and the rights of reenacting it; it’s a contract. “The artist must accept that the performance can be reenacted. He has to decide how to create a documentation system for it to happen – a system that may include notes, photos, etc.” says Gallon.
Even for the galleries interested in commercializing this type of art, there are some concerns related to the context these pieces will be used in the future. Case and point: parallel to São Paulo’s art fair, an art collector (I won't mention any names) organized an event in her house, followed by a performance where artists were rolling in the mud (you know, making art) right next to the fancy guests drinking white wine.
Gallon concludes: “There is no way we can talk about this insertion without questioning the idea of fetishism. I think this is a very complicated fact: how the collector will present it. He or she will surely be able to give or lend this work to an institution. But how does it happen in the private sphere? I think that's the question.”
There are still so many matters that need to be researched, discussed and reflected by the institutions in the art world in order to have performance art to become market-friendly. The biggest concern, however, is to keep its critical power and still be able to adapt to possible marketability restrictions. I approached him to find answers but Gallon instead left me with a lingering question: “Will the artist have to meet the market needs to be able to sell the performance? I think that's one of the reasons why performance is not often sold. Because nobody wants to see a naked guy pissing in the living room.”
Article by Bel Borst