A criminal touch

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In 1976, Ulay undertook an exemplary performance of extremity by stealing ‘Germany’s favourite painting’, namely Carl Spitzweg’s The Poor Poet (1839). This chapter discusses the action at length in the context of Ulay’s earlier works as well as examples of performance art that seek to make interventions into institutional spaces of art as a means of aesthetic and political critique, highlighting the way such actions shed light on the border between art/life and art/crime. The chapter argues that in Ulay’s theft, the transgressing of the perceived limits of art was not simply art crime or vandalism, but part of a sustained project of questioning and deconditioning his own gendered and national identity, here, specifically, by taking aim at his own German-ness in the post-war period.

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The performance of extremity in the 1970s

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