Why Celebrity and Performance Art Don’t Mix

Why Celebrity and Performance Art Don't Mix
Image: Andrew Russeth

Performance art is having a very public moment, thanks in no small part to Marina Abramovic’s The Artist Is Present, which brought the then-art-world-only famous Serbian widespread recognition. But the beast always eats its tail. Once you dance with Jay Z  in his performance art piece/music video, things are pretty much bound to take a turn for the… well, worse.

The latest example of a celebrity dabbling in the form is Shia LaBeouf. What started as blatant plagiarism of another artist’s work and was then followed by plagiarized apologies is, according to the 27-year-old actor, a performance art piece. Last week, LaBeouf appeared at the Berlin Film Festival premiere for Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac with a paper bag emblazoned with the words I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE over his head. And now, Gothamist is reporting that LaBeouf has opened a performance art exhibit called #IAMSORRY at an L.A. gallery. Gothamist says it’s a direct plagiarism of Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0 (see below). Accordingly, there’s a line to get in.

It’s difficult to sympathize with the actor/actress that wants to be an artist. People in the art world become deservedly angry because they struggle to get attention while celebrities wave a hand and the next day they’re sleeping in a glass box at MoMA. People outside the art world typically roll their eyes.

At its core, performance art is still a medium for the artistic outcast in that it’s an art form that everyday people still don’t understand or fully accept. I think a lot of that is attached to an American fascination disguised as distaste for attention seekers. Performance art is the purest form of attention seeking. On the other hand, celebrity is in and of itself intentional or unintentional performance art. To add performance art to celebrity is essentially a double negative.

It may be unfair to exclude someone from a world more or less based on something they can’t completely control (the degree to which they are known for something else), but a line has to be drawn. Until performance art becomes a more mainstream art form, celebrities can never effectively participate in it.

 Follow Nikita Richardson on Twitter @nikitarbk


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