Tag Archives: theatricality

nontheatrical performance: Kaprow

the following is taken from 'Nontheatrical Performance (1976) by Allan Kaprow, in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life

…artists themselves, […] today are so trained to accept anything as annexable to art that they have a ready-made “art-frame” in their heads that can be set down anywhere, at any time. They do not require the traditional signs, rooms, arrangements, and rites of performance because performance is an attitude about involvement on some plane in something going on. It does not have to be onstage, and it really does not have to be announced.


here is the ball game I perceive: an artist can

(1)    work within recognizable art modes and present the work in recognizable art contexts

    e.g.,    paintings in galleries
                poetry in poetry books
                music in concert halls, etc.

(2)    work in unrecognisable, ie nonart, modes but present the work in recognisable art contexts

    e.g.,    a pizza parlour in a gallery
                a telephone book sold as poetry, etc.

(3)    work in recognizable art modes but present the work in nonart contexts

    e.g.,    a “Rembrandt as an ironing board”
                a fugue in an air-conditioning duct
                a sonnet as a want ad, etc.

(4) work in nonart modes but present the work in nonart contexts

    e.g.,     perception tests in a psychology lab
                anti-erosion terracing in the hills
                typewriter repairing
                garbage collecting, etc. (with the proviso that the art world knows about it)

(5)    work in nonart modes and nonart contexts but cease the call the work art, retaining instead the private consciousness that sometimes it may be art, too

    e.g.,     systems analysis
                social work in a ghetto
                thinking, etc.


Performance in the nontheatrical sense that I am discussing hovers very close to this fifth possibility, yet the intellectual discipline it implies and the indifference to validation by the art world it requires suggest that the person enganged in it would view art less as a profession than as a metaphor. At present such performance is generally nonart activity conducted in nonart contexts but offered as quasi-art to art-minded people. That is, to those not interested in whether it is or isn’t art, who may, however, be interested for other reasons, it need not be justified as an artwork.