Performing for the Camera

The brilliant new exhibition ‘Performing for the Camera’ is now open at the Tate Modern on London’s Southbank. It explores different relationships between artist and camera, with work from Yayoi Kumsama, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Ai Wei Wei and Martin Parr. Displaying experimentation with portraiture, documentation of socio-political acts and humorous images in a variety of techniques.


Primarily we are introduced to the process of documentation. Performance art and installation captured by the camera. Harry Shunk and János Kender were a prolific duo, spending the majority of the 1960′s and 70′s immersing themselves in the art worlds of New York and Paris. The first half of the exhibition is dedicated to their work. They collaborated with Yves Klein, Yayoi Kusama, Man Ray and Bruce Nauman, capturing both artist and art in black and white.

Yves Klein used the naked female form, not as the canvas, but as the paintbrush itself; to carry and deliver the paint from surface to surface. The performance was observed by an audience of art critics and journalists. It was the act and movement of the subjects, not specifically the finished product that Klein was highlighting. In the images he stands conductor-like in presence, a stark contrast to the paint covered women moving around him. The question that forms in your mind; ‘are you a spectator or a voyeur’?

Yayoi Kusama used a similar technique in The Anatomic Explosion, photographed by Shunk-Kender in 1968 on the Brooklyn Bridge. She used the male and female form as an expression of freedom. They take the role of subject and surface. The performance here is playful, with Kusama painting her famous polka dots on their bodies as they in turn paint  each other.

The exhibition is thoughtfully curated and takes you on a journey through different forms of creative expression. It also illuminates the important influence of Feminism in this sphere. It features Cindy Sherman, Hannah Wilke and the eponymous Carolee Schneemann ‘writing back’ to the dominance of the masculine form in modern art.

One of the most interesting rooms presents posters of Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, self-promoting their latest work. Tongue in cheek with a hint of narcissism, this is in stark contrast to Lynda Bengalis’  iconic imagery from Artforum Magazine.


It concludes with humour as the subject. Witty postcards of Martin Parr super-imposed next to Putin or scenic holiday landscapes that create a snapshot of familiarity. Amalia Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections uses Instagram to take her followers on a real life enactment of life as a young girl who ends up as a beauty queen wannabe stripper in Los Angeles. Provoking and interesting in subject, form and concept; all of the work in this exhibition is tied together by the use of the camera. The medium of the modern age.

It’s definitely one to see!