The Challenges of Performance-Based Art
for Theories and Practices of
Conservation, Collecting and Curating

in the context of the 5th SWISS CONGRESS FOR ART HISTORY, Zürich, 22–24 June 2022

Session Organizers:

Wolfgang Brückle
Tancredi Gusman
Rachel Mader

Since the early 2000s, performance art has gained increasing relevance in the field of contemporary art. Major international institutions have opened departments or devoted projects to this art form, with some of them trying to establish criteria for how to integrate this genre into their permanent collections. Parallelly, a lively scholarly debate is developing around the challenges that ephemeral art forms pose to the practices and paradigms of conservation, collection and exhibition of visual art. What it brings to the forefront is an urgent need to redefine the very concept of ‘artwork’ as a precondition for our institutions to incorporate practices that seem to escape the traditional criteria of collectability. In the face of artistic works that do not possess a unique and constant material core but are necessarily transformed in the context of their reactivation or transcription, we need to ask: What are the most appropriate ontological models for describing and capturing performance-based artworks, and what are the consequences of these models on the museum’s mission to collect, preserve and mediate art and its history? The scope of these questions goes beyond the reach of performance art as a defined art genre. In its composite nature of score and performance, concept and realization, event and document, performance-based art represents what is indeed an exemplary case for many post-conceptual art practices. The organizers of this session invite art historians and theorists, conservators, registrars and curators to reflect on these issues, starting from performance art but not necessarily excluding other strands of ‘two-part’ works, where score and activation become the phases of realization. Both historical-theoretical contributions and field reports by curators, artists or other professionals involved in the care of performance-based art are welcome.

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

redefinitions of the concept of ‘artwork’ in relation to performance-based and post-conceptual art practices;

challenges of conserving performances and other ‘ephemeral’ artworks;

strategies for and practices of documenting performance-based art;

policies for collecting performance-based and other ‘ephemeral’ art forms;

curatorial approaches to the exhibition of performance art;

transformations of the museum and its mission in relation to post-conceptual and performance art practices;

roles of actors and agencies involved in the unfolding and care of performance art in museums and art institutions.

We welcome contributions in German, English, French, and Italian, in the hope of assembling multilingual sessions that reflect the topical and institutional diversity of the field and foster young academics.

Please send an abstract (1 page, max. 3000 characters) and a short CV including institutional affiliation and contact details to Tancredi Gusman (email hidden; JavaScript is required) by 18 June 2021. Please also cc the organization office of the 5th Swiss Congress for Art History in Zurich at email hidden; JavaScript is required. The VKKS will contribute to accommodation costs, and all speakers will be exempt from the conference registration fee.