“A Short History of Performance Part One”

Whitechapel Gallery

Tradition decrees that Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy, 1964, be “remembered” the wrong way up. The work’s best-known documentary photo shows Schneemann and a co-performer zooming, as if airborne, toward the viewer, their befeathered bosoms defying gravity—a dynamic effect achieved by displaying the photo true to the camera’s view: upside-down. Variously cropped or stretched, this image dominated the press’s representations of the Whitechapel’s “A Short History of Performance: Part One.” Viewed the “right” way up the image is less exuberant.

Likewise, as restaged by the artist and a group of evidently sincere but mostly shy and physically unconfident volunteers, the work itself proved altogether less “energetic, evanescent, [and] physicalized” (in Schneemann’s words) than many viewers were anticipating; the performance’s soporific mood belied its Motown sound track. Helpings of raw meat

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