10 Kissing Performances That Are Actually Art


Sorry Internet, that viral video called First Kiss that features strangers awkwardly and adorably making out on camera for the first time was actually part of an ad. We discussed its place in the relentlessly positive Upworthy landscape, and we shared the parodies that have popped up since its debut. Now, we take a look at similar performance works (live or captured on film and in photos) that are actually art. Head past the break for one big arty make out sesh.

Jedediah Johnson’s Makeout Project captured the portraits of just-been-kissed people (men, women, and babies), smeared in the artist’s lipstick, with a glimpse of his hand cradling their head.

At the Tate Modern, Czech artist Jirˇí Kovanda stood behind a wall with a note asking strangers to kiss him through the glass. The performance contained all the charming embarrassment and tenderness you wanted to believe in the viral First Kiss video. Frieze writes of the artist’s action-based work:

His actions, too, are directed against interiorized barriers to political, societal, cultural, ethnic, religious or sexual otherness. In this sense, his invitation to kiss him through a window at Tate Modern can be understood as a paradoxical challenge to overcome barriers that are seemingly insurmountable.

Ukrainian-Canadian artist Taras Polataiko’s Sleeping Beauty installation found a woman “sleeping” in a bed for three days while gallery patrons lined up to kiss her. The suitors could only lock lips with the beauty after signing a contract that states the two would be contractually obligated to get married if she opened her eyes during the kiss — like some creepy fairy tale.

Hoping to bring “an emotional and intimate moment into an interactive context,” art collaborative Tango & Hawaii created the sound reactive installation Kissing — displayed in large-scale windows on Hoxton Square in London’s East End. The more noise passersby created, the more makeouts they got to watch.

Jan-Erik Andersson’s Kissing Bridge was originally installed in the Retretti caves in Finland. There, visitors could channel their inner voyeur and photograph themselves kissing by pushing a button.

More voyeuristic smooching happened during an installation by artist Burnett-Rose. For A Thousand Lovers , she filmed over 90 kissing couples (people who happened to be passing by) and created a 45-minute continuous loop of the kissing sequences, displayed across eight screens inside a 40-foot shipping container. “The name for the piece came when the artist discovered the Maori name for Auckland to be Tamaki Makaurau, ‘the isthmus of a thousand lovers’ or ‘many lovers,’” the project statement tells us.

Gonzalo Orquin‘s photos of gay couples kissing in church created a controversy with the Catholic Church (most of the images were captured in churches in Rome). The project was set for exhibition at Rome’s Galleria L’Opera, but for security reasons, and after receiving threats of legal action, the artist decided not to show the works.

“How do Africans kiss?” artist Zina Saro-Wiwa asked a group of Africans and African diasporans in her video installation and documentary project Eaten By The Heart. Ok, so we’re slightly cheating because the work doesn’t feature couples non-stop kissing, but Zina’s exploration of intimacy and heartbreak is too fascinating to pass up. The pure emotion emanating from several of her subjects is profound, beautiful stuff. The artist writes: “So many of us cite with confidence that Love Is Universal. But the performance of love is, it seems, cultural. I wonder how the impact of how we choreograph and culturally organize the performance of love impacts what we feel inside and who we become.”

This excerpt from Marc Silver’s multi-screen video installation, Ageless Sex revealed the “complexities of pornography, old age and personal choices” through the story of 70-year-old Libby, an adult entertainment producer and performer. The disgusted YouTube commentssection for a clip of the work demonstrates exactly why the project is so important.

Clifford Owens’ Anthology was a series of performances, in which he acted out written instructions from a group of artists. One performance at MoMA PS1 found Owens in a situation directed by fellow artist Kara Walker. Her instructions read:

French kiss an audience member. Force them against a wall and demand sex. The audience/viewer should be an adult. If they are willing to participate in the forced sex act abruptly turn the tables and you assume the role of victim. Accuse your attacker. Seek help from others, describe your ordeal. Repeat.

Audience members were indeed kissed and groped.