The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is pleased to present Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, the first comprehensive survey of performance art by black artists working from the perspective of the visual arts. While black performance has been largely contextualized as an extension of theater, visual artists have integrated performance into their work for over five decades, generating a repository of performance work that has gone largely unrecognized until now. Radical Presence provides a critical framework to discuss the history of black performance traditions within the visual arts beginning with the “happenings” of the early 1960s, throughout the 1980s, and into the contemporary practices of a new generation of artists.
The exhibition will feature work by three generations of artists including Terry Adkins, Papo Colo, Jean-Ulrick Désert, Theaster Gates, Sherman Fleming, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Maren Hassinger, Wayne Hodge, Satch Hoyt, Shaun El C. Leonardo, Kalup Linzy, Dave McKenzie, Senga Nengudi, Lorraine O’Grady, Clifford Owens, Tameka Norris, Benjamin Patterson, Adrian Piper, William Pope.L, Rammellzee, Sur Rodney (Sur), Dread Scott, Xaviera Simmons, Danny Tisdale, Hennessy Youngman, and Carrie Mae Weems, among others. Radical Presence will feature video and photo documentation of performances, performance installations, ephemera and objects created through actions. In addition, the exhibition will feature live performances scheduled throughout the run of the exhibition including performances by Hassinger, Linzy, Pope.L, Leonardo, Nengudi, Norris, and Owens, among many others.
The history of performance art as a manifestation of radical shifts in social thought and artistic practice is well documented in publications like Performance: Live Art Since 1960 (1998) by Roselee Goldberg, and her seminal book from 1979, Performance: Live Art 1909 to the Present. Performance art practices in Latin America were also eloquently documented in the 2008 exhibition Arte ≠ Vida: Actions by Artists of the Americas, 1960-2000 at El Museo del Barrio, New York. Ironically, given the rich history of performance and its prevalence in black artistic practices since the 1960s, this tradition has largely gone unexamined save for a handful of publications including the exhibition catalogue Art as a Verb (1988) by Leslie King Hammond and Lowery Stokes Sims.
To date, little scholarship exists that chronicles the rise and persistence of black performance traditions emerging from the framework of the visual arts. While the works created by these artists have previously been contextualized in terms of associations and movements ranging from Fluxus to Conceptual Art to the blanketed arena of contemporary art practice, in Radical Presence they will be presented along a trajectory providing general audiences and scholars alike, a critical understanding of the significance and persistence of black performance as a stand-alone practice. Radical Presence is curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver, Senior Curator at CAMH.
The fully illustrated catalogue that accompanies the exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art reflects the breadth and scope of the contributions of black artists to the field of performance art practice over the last 50+ years. The publication includes an essay by exhibition curator Valerie Cassel Oliver, as well as contributions by Franklin Sirmans, Department Head and Curator of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Naomi Beckwith, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Yona Backer, Founding Partner, Third Streaming, New York; Tavia Nyong’o, Associate Professor of Performance Studies, New York University; and photographer/performance artist Clifford Owens. The catalogue also inlcudes a chronology of black performance art since 1960, an exhibition checklist, color reproductions of featured works, and artists’ biographies and bibliographies.