What is this thing called performance art? One good way to find out: Tune in "Art: Off the Wall," tonight's edition of KCET-TV's insightful "California Stories" series (7:30 p.m., Channel 28).
Performance art--increasingly being called simply "performance"--is an umbrella term for several sorts of artistic expression. Yet it has a definite tradition, dating back at least to the "happenings" of the '60s (a point missed in the show) or even (as the show does say) to when Marcel Duchamp brought a urinal into a gallery to be looked at as "art."
Most typically, performance combines theater, painting, dance, music and politics--or occupies the obscure, fertile gaps between them. Generally intended, as host Roger Bingham says, "to stir up the pot," the art has often been provocative, even outrageous. Chris Burden shoots himself in the arm. Rachel Rosenthal parades animals across the stage. Paul McCarthy paints with his body.
The work can be indulgent, shocking, boring, enlightening, funny and/or cathartic. And most of it, like most theater, is for the moment. Fortunately, enough has been caught on film to supply this show--titled "Art: Off the Wall"--with some enticing glimpses of historic highlights.