You’ve probably heard that phrase before, and it rings true for performance artists who bring the stage with them wherever they go. In fact, it was only a few weeks ago that Yoko Onoreleased audio of a howling cry as a reaction to Donald Trump’s election victory in the States. And on Twitter, of all places. A few of our top artists have made their claim to fame through performance. For example, Joseph Beuys, who sits comfortably in the top 5, and Ono herself, in the top 100.
Performance art has always been a good medium for protest– a grass-root art form if there ever was one– and its practitioners are masters of improvisation. Another characteristic of performance art that makes it so exciting is that it ushered in a new era of art documentation. It has a symbiotic relationship with photography and film. Today, we can look back at videos of famous performances and know exactly what was going on in that time.
It should come as no surprise that with all the political uncertainty at present, performance art is due for a comeback. We tend to look to artists to make sense of the world when it’s all too difficult ourselves. And speaking of political uncertainty, what better time to bring up the inequalities that plague the art world than now?
Man vs. Woman
Marina Abramović, Relation in Time (With Ulay) (1977) Photographic documentation of a performance
So let’s talk about the sexes. In the performance art arena, one might think women would have the upper hand in establishing themselves, especially compared to the male-dominated mediums of painting, sculpture, film, etc.
That has not been the case. We combed our database to count the exhibitions of male and female performance artists since 1951 and plotted them side-by-side. The difference between the two are striking. For one, we now know that not a single female performance artist was awarded an exhibition before 1962, a full 11 years after the first male exhibition. Just the year before, there were 7 performance art showcases by men.
What we can also gather is that even in a peak of solo exhibitions by men, women’s numbers were declining. And although they may have followed a similar trend line over time, women have not managed to catch up to men. We hope that changes, and have included a list of the Top 10 Female Performance Artists according to ArtFacts.