A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance

Bigger Splash 1967 David Hockney

David Hockney. A Bigger Splash 1967. Acrylic on canvas.

A Bigger Splash takes a new look at the dynamic relationship between performance and painting from 1950 to the present day. Taking its title from David Hockney’s iconic 1967 image of a Californian swimming pool and Jack Hazan’s film about Hockney’s life, it brings together a range of key works by over 40 artists including Yves Klein, Jackson Pollock and Cindy Sherman. Moving through half a century of painting, video and photography, alongside archival and documentary material, this major group exhibition shows how the key period of post-war performance art has challenged and energised the medium of painting for successive generations.

The show begins by exploring Hockney’s striking treatment of the splash in his major work A Bigger Splash 1967 against Jackson Pollock’s radical ‘action painting’ Summertime 1948, to examine the painted canvas as an arena in which performative gestures and experiments are acted out. It goes on to explore how paint has been used on the body as a surface, and how painting is now being used by contemporary artists to create social and theatrical spaces.

A Bigger Splash offers a unique chance to see how ‘action’ painters worked in the 1950s, 1960s and beyond, including Niki de Saint Phalle, Pinot Gallizio, the Japanese Gutai and Viennese Actionists. Rarely seen films and photographs reveal how their experimental works were made, showing artists using their feet as brushes, snipping up their canvases and shooting their paintings with air rifles.

Moving beyond ‘action painting’, the exhibition also shows how artists experimented with painting as a transitory form using drag or camouflage, often treating make-up as a vernacular equivalent of ‘fine art’. These explorations of role-play and illusion include videos, such as Bruce Nauman’s Flesh to White to Black to Flesh1968, photographs, such as Cindy Sherman’s self-portraits disguised as strange characters, and film stills, such as Jack Smith’s fantastically made-up cast of performers in his painted apartment.

As well as seeing paint as the trace of an action and as ‘masquerade’ on the body, A Bigger Splash explores how artists have played with the idea of the ‘stage set’. The exhibition showcases a number of recent large-scale installations, such as Karen Kilimnik’s dream-like Swan Lake 1992 and Marc Camille Chaimowicz’stheatrical room “Jean Cocteau…” 2003-12. It reveals how attitudes developed through ‘performance art’ paved the way for contemporary artists such as IRWIN, Jutta Koether, Ei Arakawa and Lucy McKenzie to rethink painting. By examining this relationship between paint, the body and the gallery space, A Bigger Splash uncovers the underlying influence of action and performance after the 1950s upon artists working with painting today.