Collection XIX: Performance

exposición performance

Colección XIX: Performance

If there’s one thing that distinguishes contemporary art museums from other cultural institutions, it’s that they are directed towards the bodies of the public. In a traditional museum the experience of art is directed towards the eyes of the spectator: the gaze, as the most noble and intellectual of the senses, which substitutes the whole body, like an euphemism. In museums like ours, experience appeals to the whole body, with its distinctive features, its desires and different possibilities. Performance is the way contemporary art refers to artistic productions that place the body, its articulation of presence and the temporality of its actions, at the heart of its proposal.

In the early days, at the end of the 60s, these practices redefined the limits of the body as an artistic medium: violence on the body, bodily fluids as a tool, the relationship of the body represented through the visual tradition of classical art, feminist practices that recover the female nude as an empowered subject rather than passive object, the presence of racialized bodies reclaiming visibility in the public arena through political agency, or even the possibility of the body as an instrument of protest in activism through artistic action.  This public history begins with a personal history in this exhibition: the paintings that tell the history of art of action according to Xisco Mensua are a statement of intentions, as they show that when the body is the expressive medium of art, the intimate and private become public to a degree that necessarily projects the body into the political field, into criticism of representation. This is followed by the works by the leading pioneers of global performance art from the CA2M and Fundación ARCO Collections, such as Marina Abramović, John Baldessari, Ana Mendieta, David Hammons or Carolee Schneemann. The first part of this exhibition highlights the need to reach an understanding of how feminist aesthetic practice broke new ground in the use of the body as a battlefield, as well as how minorized groups such as Afro-American artists extended this new territory.

The second and more extensive part of the exhibition recreates a fragmented and unfinished history of performance in Madrid. Or perhaps we should say from Madrid. It starts with fundamental artists like Esther Ferrer, Wolf Vostell or Muntadas, rescuing in the pioneering  70s the presence of seminal international figures such Allan Kaprow or Charlotte Moorman. The 90s were marked by the artist-run spaces of experimentation and independence, exemplified by Espacio P directed by Pedro Garhel, but also by the impacts of the AIDs crisis, which placed the body at the centre of artistic practice, with voices like Pepe Espaliú or Andrés Senra’s documentation of the processes of activism. In the 2000s performance art blossomed, with key names such as Dora García, Itziar Okariz, Antonio de la Rosa or María Gimeno, but a local trend also emerged: distinctions between live art, weird performing arts and contemporary dance, and the so-called visual arts became blurred during the economic crisis that hit Madrid in 2008. This trend is represented here by artists such as Fran Cabeza de Vaca and María Salgado, María Sánchez or SEPA.

This exhibition pursues two lines of argument. While displaying a potential history of performance told through our resources, from the combined forces of the CA2M and Fundación ARCO Collections, we want to explain how something that is living, in other words a happening, can be collected, the experience of another’s body with our own body. In this sense, this exhibition resembles a catalogue of recording and documentation forms (such as photography, video, drawing or narration) and a space for the remains of actions, for the notation that enables a repeat performance, for the accidental impacts that an action provokes, as well as for the ways of life that such actions unlock. In sum, this exhibition talks about the effect of performance on the collection itself, about what bodies can do to collections by setting them in motion, by giving them life and transforming them into potential that opens them out to other horizons.

A public programme lies at the centre of this exhibition, where different contemporary performativities and choreographies will lead to public discussion and study. Afterall, is not the happening of bodies in an institutional space already part of its Collection? Doesn’t the archive of experiences from our Picnic Sessions, our Autoplacer Festival, our educational sessions, constitute an excellent cultural resource collected through the intimate memories of those who have experienced these events, but also through the public documentation of temporariness? This exhibition raises the question of where the limits of a collection lie as regards the living arts: it helps us understand how all collections are Potential History.



Tania Pardo and Manuel Segade


Participating artists:

Marina Abramovic

Costa Badía

John Baldessari

Fran Cabeza de Vaca y María Salgado

Javier Campano / Allan Kaprow

Pepe Espaliú

Esther Ferrer

Regina Galindo y Pedro Gahrel

Dora García

María Gimeno

Ana Mendieta

Enrique Meneses

Xisco Mensua

Charlotte Moorman

Antoni Muntadas

Itziar Okariz

Lia Perjovski

Arnulf Rainer

Antonio de la Rosa

María Sánchez

Carolee Schneemann

Andrés Senra


Bruce Talamon / David Hammons

Wolf Vostel​



Press kit


With the support of

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