A week or two ago I wrote regarding the work of Duane Hanson and the fact that if you tried to strike up a conversation with one of the security guards at a Hanson exhibit, you might just find yourself talking to one of the lifelike, life-size, figural sculptures in the exhibit. There is an obverse side to this experience as well. In 1972, at the Attico Gallery in Rome, two young British artists known only by the names, Gilbert and George installed themselves as works of art, together upon a pedestal, nattily dressed in three-piece suits, arranged in various static poses for the benefit of visiting gallery viewers. The work was entitled G & G at via del Paradiso. They dubbed their work "continuous sculptures" as they posed, unmoving, for several minutes at a time before changing to a new posed relationship similar to what might be expected of two men standing on a Rome street corner. Viewers commented, "They look so real."
This they called Body Art. It's not really new. It wasn't even new in 1972. Our old friend, Marcel Duchamp (remember, Nude Descending a Staircase, or the incident with the urinal at the 1913 Armory Show), well, he is said to have dressed as his feminine alter ego Rose Selavy, and on another occasion, posed nude, having covered various strategic parts of his body with shaving foam, all for the camera lens of his friend Man Ray. At another time, he had a star shape shaved on the back of his head, transforming it and himself into a work of art. And if you want to press the point, those exhibiting a fondness for tattoos have been doing it for years.
There awakened a new interest in Body Art in the 1960s as artists began to look for newer, ever more outlandish ways in which to make artistic statements amidst the last, dying breaths of the era of Modern Art. Italian artist Piero Manzoni began sculpting with living bodies, posing them, and keeping them stone still for sustained periods of time. Going beyond this, he even had the "displays" adorned with certificates of authenticity. In 1974, Gina Pane went still further, wounding herself with the thorns of roses in Azione sentimentale. Her work assigned negative feelings to objects usually viewed in a positive context as she exalted not the beauty of roses, but the pain they could inflict. Austrian artist, Arnulf Rainer painted on himself, then had himself photographed in excruciating, unnatural poses, which he further emphasised by painting with strong, violent brushstrokes on the enlarged prints. I think I'll stick to canvas.