Action and location

In the 1950s, a new generation of artists began to differentiate their practice from the abstract painting that was dominant in the United States and Europe. They did this through an emphasis on action and time, and by working ‘performatively’ in the studio or outdoors. Their experimentations introduced new kinds of interactions between the artist, location, audience and artwork, and there are numerous works in the contemporary galleries that make us aware of the importance of these elements in helping define a work of art.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude combined them on a vast scale in their first Kaldor Public Art Project in 1969, which swathed the coastline of Sydney’s Little Bay in more than 90 000 square metres of fabric. A scale model of the concept – Packed Coast, One Million Square Feet, Project for Australia 1969 – is a relic from this project, as is Two Wrapped Trees, which Christo created at the same time.

The traces of intensely energetic action can be seen clearly in Bronze liars (minus 1 to minus 16) 1996 by Mike Parr and Southern gravity 2011 by Richard Long, which both bear the marks of the artist’s hands, while Francis Alÿs’s video work Railings 2001 draws our attention to a simple individual action within a crowded city, as the artist walks the streets of London, trailing a wooden drumstick along a series of metal railings.