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Given the Tino Sehgal Case: How to Save the Future of a Work of Art that Materializes Only Temporarily

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2009


This article focuses on German artist Tino Sehgal (born in 1976), whose works of art materialize only temporarily, while they fulfill, at the same time, all the requirements that any work of the visual arts must fulfill if it is to have a lasting existence. In this regard Sehgal's artistic approach not only takes a unique position within the history of art; it also departs fundamentally from the tradition of performance art. This article deals with the way Sehgal tries to save the future of the ephemeral situations his art puts forth, and shows, furthermore, how he thereby confronts questions and problems that performance art has neglected or even generated.

Copyright © International Federation for Theatre Research 2009

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1 Tino Sehgal (interview), in Heiser, Jörg, ed., Funky Lessons (Revolver: Frankfurt am Main, 2005), pp. 102–5Google Scholar, here p. 104.

2 The objectives of the object (interview), in UOVO/10, 2005, pp. 169–77, here p. 170.

3 Uta Baier, ‘Hüpfen. Armwedeln. Kunstsingen. Traurige Clownereien im Deutschen Pavillon: Die Aktionen von Tino Sehgal stehlen dem Maler Thomas Scheibitz die Schau’, available at, 11 June 2005 (translated from German).

4 Ibid. (translated from German).

5 Michael Hierholzer, ‘Die Biennale von Venedig 2005’, available at–05.php?&lang=deu, accessed 18 July 2005 (translated from German).

6 Austin, John L., How to Do Things with Words (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 1962), p. 137Google Scholar.

7 Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edin, 2003, available at

8 Niklas Luhmann, ‘Temporalstrukturen des Handlungssystems’ (1980), in idem, Soziologische Aufklärung 3 (Westdeutscher Verlag: Opladen, 1993), pp. 126–50, here p. 133 (translated from German).

9 Niklas Luhmann ‘Temporalisierungen’, in idem, Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft (Suhrkamp Verlag: Frankfurt am Main, 1997), pp. 997–1015, here p. 1007 (translated from German).

10 Cf. Hans-Peter von Däniken and Beatrix Ruf, In Conversation with Marina Abramovic’, New Moment, 7 (1997), pp. 3–4, here p. 3.

11 Carlson, Marvin, Performance Art: A Critical Introduction (Routledge: London, 1996), p. 104Google Scholar.

12 Many performance artists regularly complain that in the final analysis the institutionalization of these film sequences and photographs reduces the original idea and self-concept of performance art to absurdity. Partly for this reason, Marina Abramovic tried to experiment with another form of ‘documentation’ in her performance series Seven Easy Pieces (2005), in which she re-enacted six seminal performances from the 1960s and 1970s. However, she thereby not only produced an event that by virtue of its specific parameters (the institutional framework of the Guggenheim Museum and the duration of the individual performances and the entire cycle) exposed its uniqueness, she also did not refrain from recording these re-enactments. The constant presence of camera teams demonstrated Abramovic's urge to create a highly precise film and photographic document of this unique event. Cf. Marina Abramovic, Seven Easy Pieces (Milan, 2006).

13 It is worth noting that even when Sehgal's works are sold, no objects are involved. He spells out his other form of production leading up to and including the contracts that take his works into the market and testify to their existence, as it were. No terms and conditions or signatures are specified on paper. All that happens is an oral transaction.

14 Tino Sehgal (interview), in Heiser, Funky Lessons, p. 102.