It’s safe to say that, if it weren’t for art historian RoseLee Goldberg, performance art would not be what it is today. Not even close. The founder of the nonprofit organization Performa, which for nearly 15 years has been putting on biennials of live performance around New York City, has for decades helped shape and steer the conversation about what “performance art” even is—and what, at its best and most inventive, it’s capable of achieving. A scholar, critic, and New York University professor, Goldberg has written important texts on the subject, including Performance Now: Live Art for the 21st Century (Thames & Hudson), and has established new modalities for organizing and presenting performances. Her astute understanding of the multidisciplinary medium is unparalleled.
With Performa, Goldberg has radically shifted the landscape of the field through collaborations with hundreds of artists, including Adam Pendleton (in what was a breakout moment for the artist), Yoko Ono, Rashid Johnson, Joan Jonas, and Julie Mehretu. Following previous overarching themes like Futurism (2009), Surrealism (2013), and Dada (2017), this year’s biennial, which runs from November 1 through 24, will explore ideas about the Bauhaus on its centenary year. Among the performances will be works by Taiwanese artist Yu Cheng-Ta, who will unpack Western “influencers” and reality TV culture; Gaetano Pesce, who, at the Salon 94 Design gallery, will create a studio atmosphere, evoking the typical conditions of a day, via his assistants molding, pouring, and crafting; and Bunny Rogers, who will turn various spaces at a public high school—including hallways, a gym, and an auditorium—into a “living installation.”
On this episode of Time Sensitive, Goldberg speaks with Spencer Bailey about her upbringing as a young dancer in Durban, South Africa, when that country was under apartheid rule; her adventurous journey into the beating heart of the art world, first in London and ultimately in New York; and her path to establishing Performa—and elevating performance art as we know it in the process.