Performative monuments

The rematerialisation of public art

By Mechtild Widrich

Performative monuments

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9591-7
  • Pages: 240
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £18.99
  • Published Date: May 2014
  • BIC Category: The arts / Performance art, Memorials, Monuments, Europe, The arts / Art & design styles: from c 1960, ART / History / Contemporary (1945-), ART / Performance, ARCHITECTURE / Buildings / Landmarks & Monuments, Architecture: public buildings, History of art, Performance art, Art History
  • Series: Rethinking Art's Histories


This book answers one of the most puzzling questions in contemporary art: how did performance artists of the '60s and '70s, famous for their opposition both to lasting art and the political establishment, become the foremost monument builders of the '80s, '90s and today? Not by selling out, nor by making self-undermining monuments. This book argues that the centrality of performance to monuments and indeed public art in general rests not on its ephemerality or anti-authoritarian rhetoric, but on its power to build interpersonal bonds both personal and social. Specifically, the survival of body art in photographs that cross time and space to meet new audiences makes it literally into a monument.

The argument of the book spans art in Austria, the former Yugoslavia, and Germany: Valie Export, Peter Weibel and the Viennese Actionists (working in Austria and abroad), Marina Abramovic, Sanja Ivecovic and Braco Dimitrijevic (working in Yugoslavia and abroad), and Joseph Beuys and Jochen Gerz (working in Germany and abroad). These artists began by critiquing monumentality in authoritarian public space, and expanded the models developed on the streets of Vienna, Munich, Rome, Belgrade and Zagreb to participatory monuments that delegate political authority to the audience.

Readers interested in contemporary art, politics, photography and performance will find in this book new facts and arguments for their interconnection.


'Mechtild Widrich's astonishing and original book connects performance histories, feminist theory and speech act theory to elucidate the "event character" of public art by contemporary artists. Widrich advances a powerful argument about the stakes of spectatorship, temporality and collective memory.'
Julia Bryan-Wilson, Associate Professor of Contemporary Art, University of California, Berkeley

'Rigorously researched and argued, this important book will become required reading not only on the history and theory of performance art but also on the history of the "performative" itself as it has transformed public art and commemoration.'
Kirk Savage, Professor, History of Art & Architecture, University of Pittsburgh


Introduction: what is a performative monument?
1. Documents
2. Audiences
3. Sites
4. Monuments
Conclusion: relations


Mechtild Widrich is Professor in Art History, Theory and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

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