Theater shows, temporary art, performance artists, even Teppanyaki grills–exhibitions of non-permanence have all been thriving as of late.
This does not signify the death of museums, of paintings, or of great literature; it simply means that the art world has been expanding in terms of what constitutes works of artistic merit. While some of these experiences do produce results that have a chance at standing the ultimate test of time, many of these disappear soon after their creation, living only through those who created, watched, or recorded the work.
Though its mainstream popularity is currently on the rise, this type of art is not revolutionary; in fact, it dates as far back as ancient Greek plays. Epics like The Odyssey and The Iliad are mere recordings of these oral tales. Operas and other forms of performance art created unique experiences that could never be repeated (as each show provides something different for each audience), but art as a visual spectacle became more apparent in the 1960’s, a turbulent time in the political world. As pop art and abstract art became more widely accepted, artists more willingly dabbled on the edge of what defines such a broad topic. From inviting strangers to touch unguarded bodies to open meetings coated in silence, experiences soon became exhibitions of art themselves.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the growing popularity of experience art lies in the increased use of and access to social media. By simply pressing a button, almost anyone can capture the magic of a single moment and decide whether or not to share a snippet of their lives on Snapchat stories, Facebook Live streams, or Instagram Boomerangs. And, though it may seem to be the complete opposite of curating a digital profile, the concept of mindfulness may also contribute to the expansion of what is traditionally considered art. The idea of “living in the moment” invites artists to create these moments, often inviting spectators to contribute to the artistic experience or work.
Many of these artworks appear in the form of installations, some as famous as the annual event known as Burning Man. Black Rock City comes to life once a year and strives to create a community that embodies near-utopian philosophies, though only for a short period of time (since one of their core values involves leaving no trace). This immersive experience is a sacrifice of self and a complete dedication to the experience, which may be one of the more extreme examples. Though it is world renowned, not everyone might find this experience art to be their personal cup of tea.
As such, performance artists like David Garibaldi have achieved mainstream success worthy of final placement on “America’s Got Talent” in 2012. Garibaldi exemplifies a combination of a perceived dichotomy by making the creation of his art as intriguing and as captivating (if not more) as the resulting painting.
In California, the Sacramento-based initiative M5 Arts capitalizes on the popularity of spectacle, curating exhibitions for contemporary artists who carve massive wood sculptures in front of daily spectators or symbolically paint television screens. M5 Arts served as the brains behind two massive events: Art Hotel in 2016 and Art Street in 2017. Both re-purposed abandoned areas of the city and invited artists to celebrate themselves in a space that would permanently close, after the designated time frame of two and four weeks.On top of that, general admission for the public was free. Everyone was invited to brave the long lines in exchange for a few hours of photo ops and the irreplaceable art of experience
By later publishing commemorative books, M5 Arts highlighted one of experience art’s most valuable qualities: fostering a sense of community. Only those who visited would ever know how it felt to walk through hallways and explore rooms backed to the brim with provocative and evocative pieces that would soon disappear from behind the lens of countless photographs and social media posts. Only those who attended could have an artist thank them over Instagram for sharing their work. Only those who temporarily lived in a world of art could testify to the importance of the experience.
These experiences, however, need not be exclusive. Most localities are teeming with opportunities to host or showcase temporary art (open mic nights are among the most popular, and the online series “The Art Assignment” offers different tasks for artistic fulfillment). It’s up to you to define it, and most importantly, it’s up to you to find it.