If there were as many memorable paintings done over the last 50 years as there have been allegedly memorable pieces of performance art, people would have stopped making paintings in 1985. Gilbert and George's Singing Sculpture set the standard, because it was wry and fey and humorous, and 35 years later not a single piece of performance art has had anything humorous about it.
Oleg Kulik getting off a plane and pretending to be a dog at Deitch Projects in 1995 is a typical art world notion of "fun" -- everyone stands around pointing at the artist, saying isn't that funny, but nobody actually laughs. I can remember knowing a couple of Sarah Lawrence kids back in the ‘70s who were interning for a celebrated performance artist at her Soho studio. They used to utter her name as if talking about a saint, but even then I thought, "This is just some narcissistic scam to rake in the grant money and involve the gullible with someone as dull and joyless as dirty soup."
It's not as if you have to stand panting outside some Brooklyn alternative space to see somebody "perform"; you could go to a comedy club, some hole-in-the-wall jazz joint or Central Park to get your performance dose and without the heavy cream of significance or meaning the art world provides, when, say Guy Richards Smit pretends to be a comedian or Robert Longo plays in a band. Particularly risible are the museum curators now debating about how to turn performance art into a commodity.
I can download Richard Pryor doing "That Nigga's Crazy" on YouTube and laugh my aging ass off until midnight, but I gotta make a special trip to MoMA to see Tino Seghal's ridiculous The Kiss, because MoMA was dumb enough to drop $70,000 for its derivative triteness? I confess to liking some performance art, to wit, Laurie Anderson, who is really theater (gee, a whole genre, theater, devoted to great performances, somebody tell the art world, OK?), Karen Finley was good for a night or two at the Tunnel in 1988 with her screams and her yams, and everything Marina Abramovic did was great, because she was like Sarah Bernhardt in her stage presence, but now that she has gone Vegas showgirl at MoMA, it’s like, "So what?"
Joseph Beuys must have been a gas with the coyote, but Stinky Acconci wanking underneath you: yuck. There have been about half a dozen pieces of good performance art produced. The rest is dreck. Time to shut down the genre.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).