Performance and Performativity in Contemporary Art

August 19, 2011 - January 15, 2012
Kemper Art Museum, Teaching Gallery

Against the notion of a static world of things, the stress of the performative is on process, participant, event, execution, and expressive action. The concept of performativity first emerged in the United States with the philosophy of language and speech act theory in the 1950s. It has since formed a central point of discussion among areas of study as diverse as sociology, economics, and political science, as well as gender studies (especially feminism and queer theory), philosophy, and cultural linguistics (especially deconstruction). Just as the study of performativity has become widespread in academic culture, performance has become the pervasive new metrics of evaluation in dimensions of cultural action and production, from the stock market and politics to the presentation of identity through social media.

With examples by a wide range of contemporary artists, from Vik Muniz and Andy Warhol to Jenny Holtzer and Glenn Ligon, this exhibition explores the notion of performativity and its multiple manifestations across the field of contemporary visual art. Special focus is placed on works that address the performance of identity and the presentation of the self in everyday life.

This Teaching Gallery exhibition is curated by Robert Gero, lecturer in the College and Graduate School of Art, in conjunction with his graduate seminar “Contemporary Art Theory and Discourse” and undergraduate theory course “Critical Frameworks,” offered by Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts in fall 2011.

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Image credit

Vik Muniz, Untitled, from the portfolio White Noise, 1991. Gelatin silver print, 3/50, 11 x 8 1/2". Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. University purchase with funds from the friends and family of Frederick W. Lippelt, by exchange, 1991.