"Action/Performance and the Photograph," Mar. 17-May 5, 2000, at the Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College, 17 Lexington Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
It's hard to believe that Yves Klein's magnificent photo, Sant dans le Vide (Leap into the Void) is 40 years old. Famed art-world documentarian Harry Shunk manufactured the ecstatic image for the artist, filming Klein flying into a net in one shot, and then the same street without Klein in another. Shunk combined the upper and lower halves of the two together in the darkroom.
You can see Shunk's photo of Klein's leap in "Action/Performance and the Photograph," a traveling survey of photographs made since the 1950s of artists and performers at work, some staged for the camera and some captured spontaneously on film. "Action/Performance" offers a healthy selection of about 30 photos in the show, which was organized by Los Angeles dealer Craig Krull -- he put together a similar show for his gallery back in 1993 -- and circulated by a Los Angeles group called Curatorial Assistance.
Starting with the "performance" of Jackson Pollock's painting Autumn Rhythm (captured by Hans Namuth), this small show moves quickly to Yves Klein's Leap and his influential paintings in which he used nude women as brushes. In a nod to earlier Dada and Surrealist gestures, even though they lie outside the purview of the show, there is a 1963 photo of Marcel Duchamp playing chess with a nude woman.
Photos of Austrian Aktionists like Rudolf Schwarzkogler, with work from the 1960s, and the more recent Orgien Mysterien Theater Action of Herman Nitsch, with its eviscerated bull, procession and crucifixion from the early '80s, appear along with work by the German Joseph Beuys.
Body art, the sadomasochistic kind, can't go much further than Chris Burden's 1971 Shoot, in which he had a obliging friend shoot a bullet into his left arm. He is represented in the show by "Chris Burden 71-73 Deluxe Edition," containing 53 silver prints in a binder with text. (The persistent rumor that Schwarzkogler bled to death after cutting off his penis is false; he actually jumped out a window.)
Tattoos and piercings are common enough on the street these days, but Carl Pope gets tattooed and carved in excruciating detail on film in the current Whitney Biennial. Maybe if more artists saw "Action/Performance" we might be treated to less gore and more original methods of communicating.
Overall, this collection of photographs is a good historical survey for insiders, but could use more context to help viewers understand these dramatic gestures (the show has no catalogue). And while you may know that William Wegman's hilarious 1975 Sawhorse shares the same deadpan humor that he employs with his Weimaraners (he really is our Charlie Chaplin), you may not know what Colette or Skip Arnold has been up to lately. And you won't find out here.
Still, go and get an overview of this branch of Conceptual Art and take all your friends. Maybe less of these now-historical gestures will be repeated!
N.F. KARLINS is a New York writer and art historian.