Close Look

The Stories Behind the Performa Collection Artworks


The Stories Behind the Performa Collection Artworks

As the world's leading organization dedicated to the advancement and promotion of performance art, Performa has earned the loyal support of countless esteemed contemporary artists, many of whom took their first plunge into the dynamic medium in the form of a Performa biennial commission. The artworks in this collection were all donated by artists and other sources to help fund the organization's mission, and all sales on Artspace will benefit Performa's programming. To learn more about a few of the works in this collection, we spoke to Performa founder and director RoseLee Goldberg.

Click here to read an interview with Goldberg on how to collect performance art.


We're excited to make available a video of Liz Magic Laser's Performa 11 Commission I Feel Your Pain. Liz is an artist who in a very short time has caused a considerable stir in the art world with her performances, but also with her photographs, video, and installations. She's an exciting example of today's artist working comfortably across various media and using each stage to create visuals, whether photographs or objects that can represent her layered thinking. This video is an important new work for Liz. Performa provided the resources for her to up the ante of her work, encouraged her to be ambitious on many levels with a large-scale performance. I Feel Your Pain marks a turning point in the career of a young artist, and if I were a collector I would rush to buy this last remaining video in the limited edition right away. It is an important historic work, both in terms of her trajectory and in relation to the contemporary art scene at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century.


Similarly, Adam Pendelton's Performa Commission from 2007, Revival, marked the debut of a very young artist on the New York scene. This work immediately established Adam as a formidable talent to watch—the day after the performance, Holland Cotter wrote a rave review and his editors positioned a large photograph of the piece on the front page of the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times. I love these posters that Adam made as a kind of prelude to the performance. They are bold and beautiful as images, and also show the oblique way in which Adam constructs his work—the way that he layers his ideas and provides a series of starting points for himself. You wouldn't know from these images what the performance was about, yet once you find out more the entire work, with its stark, blond-wood set, its ceramic pods for seating, and its splendid and searing poetry and song, makes incredible sense. Again, It would be crazy for a collector to miss the opportunity of purchasing these posters. They are a limited edition and they represent a critical step of an emerging talent that is about to become full blown and in huge demand for museums and collectors.


This is a wonderful photograph from a major production, Cast No Shadow, that Isaac created for Performa 07. An extraordinarily evening-length performance in three parts, it was a breathtakingly beautiful staged work that Performa presented at Sadler's Wells in London and the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. It is a major work in Isaac's oeuvre, and also a turning point in performance history for the way in which the artist seamlessly combined film and live performance on a grand scale. It is also stunning for the fact that it carries a profound social and political message—the three parts covered different territories of the African diaspora. True North is a reference to Matthew Henson, among the first team to reach the North Pole yet whose place in history was denied because he was an African American. So, once again, you're getting a work that has a rich and powerful backstory and that takes you into many different layers of the artist's work. It is the first step in becoming more deeply involved with the way that Isaac thinks about his work and the world.


This work is an excerpt from Jesper's True Love Is Yet to Come, his first live performance and a stunning production that was the opening night of Performa 05, our very first biennial. It stated Performa's missions loudly and clearly—to invite artists to take performance in an entirely direction for the 21st century. This piece involved a system of projections and mirrors that created a holographic presence on the stage, and featured a single live performer. The work carried all the emotion of Just's beautiful videos and announced him as an extraordinary talent to the New York and international art world. This photograph is a beautifully eerie and lovely reference to the earlier piece but also can stand alone. Jesper will represent his country, Denmark, at the Venice Biennale in 2013, so it's exciting that we were able to give him the opportunity early on to show his extraordinary work.


This work is a wonderful example of Christian's mix of humor and sharply critical reflections on contemporary culture. Here he goes hunting in the supermarket. His Performa Commission for 2007 was similarly enlightening and amusing. Called Rooftop Routine, it was a terrific video that played on the idea of fitness videos as well as MTV-style music videos, but also on the history of downtown dance in New York with its reference to a rooftop performance by Trisha Brown in the 1970s. That video was completely sold out soon after it was produced, but Christian kindly offered this work instead to support future Performa Commissions. It's a gem, and should absolutely find a home in a wonderful collection.


This is a very elegant and poetic photograph excerpted from Daria's Performa 07 Commission. It is emblematic of the way we come to work with our artists. I had been watching Daria's early films and responded to her incorporation of dance—of the body or of machines—in her films, which triggered in me the desire to see her create a live performance. That's when we commissioned her to do her first performance with us. The result was a beautiful standalone film that was presented during Performa with a live prelude by a musician.


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