press release

A Theatre without Theatre is a rambling but engaging account of how theatre has influenced the past half-century of visual art, and goes to the long contested heart of the matter: is contemporary art a decline into ‘mere’ theatre? Or is it precisely the anarchic theatricality of happenings, events and installations that infuses art with a kind of electricity? ’In, FINANTIAL TIMES, ‘Enter the artist, stage left’ – 07/ 07/ 07

A Theatre without Theatre sets out to explore the different artistic proposals which, since the beginning of the 20th century, have emerged based on the theatrical model and which have resulted in extensions and alternatives to the aesthetic categories and divisions of the fine arts within the bosom of the space of the visual arts.

Hybrids – those multiple forms of expression – have constituted and still constitute territories where the issues typical of fine arts feed off those characteristic of live arts; issues in which the living confronts futility, time faces up to space, life to art, and the real to its representation to such an extent that the space of contemporary art could be considered the theatre’s “other stage”.

This “other stage” and the place occupied on it by the subject is precisely what this project aims to display – a subject at times actor, at times spectator, whose presence leads to a redefining of the functioning and purpose of the work.

When seen in the light of the predominance by pictures in the field of art today, and during a period of absolute rule on the part of the image, theatre may have seemed antiquated, capable of evoking nostalgia. Now, however, it has been revealed as a tool significant and valid enough to capture the form and substance of a broad range of contemporary proposals and to allow the establishment of a reading philosophy that, paradoxically, many of the projects exhibited here tend to ignore rather than adopt.

From Hugo Ball to Mike Kelley, from Oskar Schlemmer to Dan Graham, from Christian Boltanski to James Coleman, it is the codes and conventions, the utopian caprices of aesthetic, political and social transformations carried along by the scenic experience that now weave and sustain the links between theatre and contemporary art. Through this constant interaction, the visual arts broaden their field of action and conquer other spaces. With work based in the theatrical model by artists from Konstantin Stanislavski to Vsevolod Meyerhold, from Antonin Artaud to Samuel Beckett, from Jerzy Grotowski to Tadeusz Kantor, art has unfailingly never ceased to ask why it should be excluded from that which is living.

Because the reality of the world in which we live tends to obliterate distinctions between the theatrical and the real. The contemporary world is now one immense performance and the subject continuously seeks his place in it. The modern project incessantly places this concern in centre stage. Perhaps modernity itself is the yet to be written history of all these, often fleeting, utopias – actions, happenings, events, festivals, Fluxmesse, performances, staging, instrumental theatre and street theatre. And a good number of other notions that transgress laws, such as the space of theatre and that of the visual arts.

While theatre most likely finds conditions for its possible emancipation in the field of art, in the models that theatre provides them, the visual arts encounter only conditions of a possible rejection of their merchandise, a plunging into crisis of representation or of the material nature of things – the creation of new strategies, a way of “creating worlds” through new prisms and focuses. When faced with the industrialisation of images and bodies, some artists use the forms and laws of the theatre and stage to counterpoise a rejection of any aesthetic of reconciliation, considering the theatricalization of reality as an alternative to contemporary spectacularisation and as a possible reconstruction of the subject, in times of the failure of the political.

Given that the history of art and the lines it traces often consider the fundamental elements of the type of production in question here as marginal, an exhibition of this type could never conform to the linearity of chronology or to a classification based solely in the logic of different movements. It was thus preferable to present a thematic division in various sequences where, from the historic avant-gardes (futurisms, Dadaism, constructivism and so on) to the American criticism of theatricality in Minimal Art by Michael Fried, from the “theatre/cinema/power” opposition arising out of Dan Graham’s analysis to the drama of Joseph Beuys and Bruce Nauman, from the Fluxus parody to the singularity of the behaviour of James Lee Byars and Marcel Broodthaers, the fundamental position of figures born under the influence of the Living Theater or groups like Provos and the Situationist International is more essential than ever to understand the present days’ challenges.

In co-production with the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona (Macba) November 16 – February 17 – (Second Floor)

Curators: Bernard Blistène et Yann Chateigné.