Logo for the Collecting the Performative project

The research network will examine emerging models for the conservation and documentation of artists’ performance and will draw upon the practices of dance, theatre and activism in order to identify parallels in the concept of a work and related notions of authorship, authenticity, autonomy, documentation, memory, continuity and liveness.

By bringing together Dutch and British academic scholars and museum professionals, this two-year project aims to provide greater insight into the conceptual and practical challenges related to collecting and conserving artists’ performance.

Challenging the museum’s remit

Traditionally performance art was considered uncollectable. Many performance artworks had a political basis which disavowed the market and conceived the work as dependent on the presence of the artist to perform it. Public and private collections are rapidly beginning to acquire significant performance artworks from the 1960s and 1970s as well as works by contemporary artists. Other forms of practice are also increasingly conceptualised as ‘installed events’ and recognised as having a strong performative element.

As the ability to exist independently from the artist is considered a fundamental prerequisite for an artwork to be both collected and sold, this lack of autonomy excluded performance works from entering the market or collections. Works now entering collections have either been created in such a way as to no longer be dependent on the artist as performer or consist of older works which, where the artist might once have performed a work, they are reframed to offer an alternative performer. Despite efforts to reframe performance works as independent of the artist that made them, in practice, artists’ ongoing relationships with their works is stronger than in more traditional genres. The process of rehearsal and direction to realise the artist’s specific vision for a performance fall outside the museum’s traditional remit and so the artist has to re-engage with the collecting institution and with the work when a performance is re-performed or displayed.

Changing traditional approaches

These works demand pioneering research to suggest how traditional approaches to conservation and collection management of collections – based on the assumption that a museum object is materially bound and fixed – needs to change. Performance art, which is non-material, is at odds with long-established systems and processes for managing art as a material object. There is an urgent need for scholarly and practice-based reflection on the conceptual and practical challenges of accessioning performance based artworks.

Researching emerging practices and models

This research network brings together Dutch and British academic scholars and museum professionals to explore how museums can respond to these challenging works that destabilise core assumptions about the nature of collections and conservation. The network will offer alternative models to benchmark emerging practice. It has the potential to change policy related to the way in which the artist-museum relationship is framed and in the custodianship of these types of works.

By bringing academic scholars and research practitioners together and by combining art-historical research with ethnographic research into museum practices, the network aims to contribute to an empirically informed understanding of the hybrid processes that affect the meaning and identity of these artworks, and has the potential to develop new areas of research in this area. The network aims to initiate a sustainable collaborative partnership between three institutions in this field: Tate, Maastricht University, Van Abbemuseum. Its activities are directed at generating legacy beyond the two year period and will draw on, engage with and be informed by past research projects and networks.

The key network themes are:

  • Continuity and change in relation to artists’ performances, collecting and conservation practice.
  • Dance, theatre and activism practice in relation to the documentation and conservation of performance or performative art.
  • Ideas of autonomy and authenticity and the performing arts of dance and theatre in order to conceptualise the relationship between the artist, the artwork, the performer and the museum.
  • Changing understandings of performativity in artworks in relation to display or audience interpretation both ‘live’ within the gallery and mediated through video or the internet.
  • Alternative scientific models from the biological, environmental or social sciences and alternative conceptual frameworks for the conservation of artists’ performances within the museum.

Related events

The first network meeting was held on the 25 September 2012 and considered how legacy is created within a dance tradition.

Boris Charmatz

Boris Charmatz presented a public keynote on the evening of 24 September at Tate Modern.

A talk by Boris Charmatz, who presented his work Flip Book as part of the The Tanks: Art in Action at Tate Modern in 2012

The second network meeting was held on the 8 March 2013 at the Van Abbemuseum, in Eindhoven and considered a strand of performance-based work which either references activism or can be considered as social or political activism. The meeting looked at the different forms these works might take, both as live events and as installations or archives, and examined the idea of the uncollectible.

Tania Brugera

Tania Bruguera presented a public keynote on the 7 March 2013 at the Van Abbemuseum.

Tim Etchells

Tim Etchells presented a public keynote on 25 November 2013 in the Starr Auditorium at Tate Modern.

Drawing on his work and collaborations across disciplines – from theatre, performance and dance, to visual art and literature – Etchells’s keynote explores the different frameworks and economies by which live works persist and circulate after initial presentations. Touching upon topics such as score, documentation and archive, repetition and transformation, liveness and presence, Etchells addresses some of the key issues relating to performance, its place in culture and its much vaunted (though sometimes mourned) transience.

The third network meeting was be held on 26 November 2013 at Tate Modern and reflected on performance and theatre.

Supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research 2012–2013.

Project Information

Project type: 
Lead department(s): 
Support department(s): 
Project leader: 
Pip Laurenson, Head of Collection Care Research, Tate
Project team: 
Principal investigator: Pip Laurenson, Head of Collection Care Research
Co-investigator: Vivian van Saaze, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University