Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Body Art

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


Some artists such as Vito Acconci (1940- ) felt that what was missing from art was the corporeal presence of the artist. Body art uses the body, usually the artist’s own, as a medium. This movement functions as a reaction against the impersonality especially of conceptual art and minimalism. It often overlaps with performance art, but usually body art is constructed in private and the artwork itself is the documentation of it. Body art at its best is able graphically to explore identity, sexuality, gender, illness, ageing, violence, and death. Body art has become more common and widespread with tattoos, piercings, henna, body modification, etc.

Piero Manzoni

Living Sculptures (1961)Manzoni signed his name on the bodies of several people.

Carolee Schneeman

Meat Joy (1964)
See Performance Art.

Bruce Nauman (1941- )

Self-Portrait as a Fountain (1966)
In homage to Duchamp with conscious reference to his Fountain urinal of 1917, art extends here to the artist himself being a work of art. The body language, even narcissism, of the artist is contained within the frame instead of the artist being an outsider to the product.

John Coplans (1920- )

Violence and death are favorite themes.

Chris Burden

Trans-fixed (24 April 1974)
The artist in a crucifixion pose on the back of a Volkswagen.

Lucas Samaras (1936- )

Autopolaroids make the viewer a voyeur.

Marc Quinn (1964 )

Self (1991)
Quinn saved up 8 pints of his own blood (the average amount in the human body) which he cast and froze in his own image to raise issues of mortality. Self-mutilization and pain were sometimes used politically in the ’60s and ’70s.

Gilbert and George
= Gilbert Proesch (1943- ) and George Pasmore (1942- )

Living and working together since 1967, this British duo transformed themselves into living sculptures and art. They lightly mock the pretensions of art world by always posing and portraying themselves in variety of media. Deliberate bad pop art style ridicules narcissism and pretentions of artists, as in the irreverent Thumbing (1991).

Mona Hatoum (1952- ) — Palestinian.

Corps étranger (1994)
An endoscopic video whose title means Foreign Body.

Works Consulted

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002.