The Performing Self

Albrecht Dürer, Selbstbildnis im Pelzrock, 1500, Alte Pinakothek München

Albrecht Dürer’s famed self portrait speaks to the viewer throughout time.The skin tone is modulated with blues, yellows, reds, that make the skin come alive, a blemish just below his right eye and a scrape on his hand tell us about the vividness of the depicted.Eyes and nails shimmering, each irregularly grown eyebrow hair is painted. Only the locks of his hair are a bit formulaic. The direct gaze symbolizes the vision of the artist and the placement of his hand symbolizes the artist as creator, the inscription on the upper right corner translates: “Thus I, Albrecht Dürer of Nürnberg, created myself in characteristic colors at the age of 28”. His hand is resting on his soft fur collar, does it symbolise social standing of the artist ? Or does he just enjoy it’s softness ?

Another interesting piece in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich is Adolph Menzel’s “Pelz des Künstlers” ( Fur coat of the artist ). Here we don’t see the artist at all, only his coat.

Adolph Menzel, Pelz des Künstlers, 1840/50

A bizarre little painting, hard to read, it could be a Mastiff taking a nap, but not so-it is the coat of the artist, who threw it down on the sofa in all haste. And yet he is present, just too busy.

Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys, the artist who was his art, wearing a fur coat.

We understood performance art through Beuys, but understanding the performing self through Dürer’s painting from 1500 is a whole other dimension and shifts the perspective to the authentic author away from the modern day selfie. Although subject and object become one, both in Dürer’s painting as in anyone’s selfies, the author being subject, agent, object, artist and art is singular, as seen in this painting and very much different from the self as spectacle ( in the sense of Debord ). In the one case the result is art, in the other triviality.

Jimi Hendrix setting Guitar on Fire, Monterey Pop Festival 1967

Another Genius whose guitar playing was characterised by an immediacy, as if his guitar was a body part, was Jimi Hendrix. His playing on electric guitar revolutionized sound, defined rock music and all it’s derivatives for ever. Setting his guitar on fire was an act of performance art, the guitar as body, sound as part of body experience and as human experience. Hendrix emulating the sound of wind he heard when he was a parachutist in the army, puts him in context with John Cage and Stockhausen. As a somewhat involuntary icon, somewhat playing along with it with stage presence he’d picked up during his years with Little Richard, his fashion style and his music fused into art. I love this humble moment during an interview with Dick Cavett:

Dick Cavett Show 1969

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood is crossing disciplines when she wears her art:

In keeping with the fur theme, I’d like to finish with Meret Oppemheim.

Meret Oppenheim, Fur Cup, 1936


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