by RoseLee Goldberg. Thames & Hudson, August 2018. 272 p. ill. ISBN 9780500021255 (h/c), $45.00.
Reviewed November 2018
RoseLee Goldberg’s Performance Now: Live Art For the 21st Century proves ambitious as it explores the last century of the medium, which it dubs “now one of the most highly visible art forms.” In Performance Now, Goldberg, founder of Performa--New York City’s premier performance art biennial--follows up on her 2001 publication Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present (Thames & Hudson) in this well-illustrated survey of contemporary performance art.
The text opens with an introductory chapter that boldly situates performance as visual art, global language, political platform, and more. Over the course of the six chapters, Goldberg champions the medium as both a standalone art form and an interdisciplinary bridge between its more established peers, including sculpture, painting, and film. As she attempts to tackle these taxonomies through brief, eight-page-or-less micro-analyses, Goldberg abbreviates her overarching chapter theses in favor of providing over 200 artist captions, transforming each chapter into a rapid-fire “who’s who” of today’s performance artists instead of the multivalent discourse the grandiose introduction suggests it will be. Ultimately, Performance Now lends itself best to an audience with a prior and more developed background with the genre.
Through a discussion of the differences between theatre and performance, and between performance and dance--all of which are performance arts--Goldberg provides some in-depth analysis of the means and methods that have shaped the genre. Additionally, though it forgoes the traditional chronological structure of a survey like Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, providing instead a dense selection of artists and their work as the organizational schema, Performance Now succeeds as a reference text in that it offers readers a glance at the medium through short summaries illustrated with crisp screenshots and images.
Readers will note some floridness, and a minor incidence of jargon and “art talk,” but the text leans toward the general inclusivity of an audience with varying levels of engagement with the art world. Performance Now serves best within an educational setting with a discursive or analytical structure, considering it provokes questions about how and what participants perform within these art environments.
Among the most pressing questions is the topic of artist selection, given that performance and the other visual arts are shaped by a series of networks influenced by several players including artists, critics, historians, gallerists, and more. Considering almost fifty percent of Goldberg’s more than 200 captions depict artwork performed in New York, the text encourages librarians and a general audience alike to ask: are our focuses shaped by the discipline, or is the discipline shaped by what locus we deem exemplary of this contemporary moment?