Performing for the Camera, Tate Modern

Performing for the Camera, Tate Modern

Tate Modern will examine the relationship between photography and performance, from the invention of photography in the 19th century to the selfie culture of today in Performing for the Camera. Bringing together over 500 images spanning 150 years, the exhibition will engage with the serious business of art and performance, as well as the humour and improvisation of posing for the camera.

The exhibition begins by considering the documentation of important performance works such as Yves Klein’s Anthropometrie de l’epoque blue 1960, a live painting event using the bodies of naked women, as well as key 60s performances by Yayoi Kusama, Eleanor Antin and Niki de Saint Phalle. Drawing on Tate’s extensive collection of images by Harry Shunk and János Kender, two of the most important photographers to have worked with performance, the exhibition will feature iconic images and many rarely seen studies, including those revealing how the photomontage of Yves Klein’s famous Leap into the Void (1960) was made.

By charting how performers and photographers have also worked collaboratively, the exhibition will examine performances that happened solely for the camera. Beginning with some of the earliest works in the exhibition, photographs from Nadar’s studio in 19th century Paris show the mime artist Charles Deburau acting out poses as the character Pierrot. The photographic image went on to become an arena within which to act, distinct from the live stage, in works by artists like Charles Ray, Carolee Schneemann and Erwin Wurm.

These artists often perform for their own cameras, either physically as in Paul McCarthy’s Face Painting – Floor, White Line 1972 or more conceptually through ideas of self-image and fantasy as in the work of Boris Mikhailov. The construction of self-identity and posing will be explored through works by Claude Cahun, Marcel Duchamp and Cindy Sherman, as well as more recent projects like Samuel Fosso’s African Spirits 2008, where the artist photographs himself in the guise of iconic figures like Martin Luther King Jr and Miles Davis.

The exhibition will look at the performative approaches taken to self-portraiture by artists like Lee Friedlander, Masahisa Fukase and Hannah Wilke. Identity and self-image were also vital for artists like Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol in their own marketing and promotional photographs, and in more playful works like Mike Mandel’s Baseball Photographer Trading Cards 1974 in which photographers pose as “collectable” baseball players. The world of social media will be addressed in a key recent work staged on Instagram by Amalia Ulman. Performing for the Camera will show not only that photography has always been performative, but that much performance art is inherently photographic.

Performing for the Camera, The Eyal Ofer Galleries, Level 3, Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG, 18 February – 12 June. For more details, see www.

Follow us on Twitter @AestheticaMag for the latest news in contemporary art and culture.

1. Masahisa Fukase, From Window, 1974 © Masahisa Fukase Archives.