‚The difference between performance and theatre is: If somebody cuts somebody with knives in a theatre, there is no real blood and there are no real knives. In performance everything is real!’ says Marina Abramovic. Since 1969, she has been using her body as subject, object and medium for her art.
The retrospective of the pioneer of performance art at the MoMA is an absolute must this year!
The title ‘The Artist is Present’ is not just an empty phrase: Ms. Abramovic created a new performance specially for this show and performs it herself throughout the run of the exhibition - for more than 700 hours! Every day, she sits at a table in a scarlet dress, says nothing and waits for visitors to take a seat opposite to her and to stare silently at each other. The visitors line up for hours to do so.
The show has been curated by Klaus Biesenbach, Chief Curator at Large at the MoMA. He did an excellent job. It is very difficult to ‘conserve’ this immaterial form of art. He and the artist decided to ‘reperform’ older works by performers selected specially for the exhibition. These are accompanied by video and photo documentations of the original performances.
The retrospective is separated in 4 parts:
1. The time in her native country, Yugoslavia, from 1969 - 1975
One of my all-time-favourite-performances is from this time: For ‘Rhythm 0’ of 1974 Marina Abramovic sat in front of a table in a gallery and placed 72 objects at the table. Among them were scissors, a rose, a knife, a whip, a gun and a single bullet. The audience was allowed to use any of these objects on her in any way they liked. After hours of this performance she had been cut, painted, cleaned, crowned with thorns and had a loaded gun pressed against her head. Her friends finally had to protect her against further harm from this performance.
2. Collaborations with the artist Ulay (1975 – 1988)
On 30th November 1975, she met the German artist Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen) in Amsterdam. They decided to create performances together. During this time, they drove, in a gipsy style, from city to city in their Citroen bus. At their respective destinations, they just had a concept in their minds and started to perform without any further preparation.
In the performance ‘Rest Energy’ of 1980 Ulay held a professional bow taut with its arrow pointed directly at Marina Abramovic’s heart.
There is also a reperformance of 'Imponerabilia'. A female and a male performer stand nude opposite each other in a doorway. Visitors, who want to enter this room of the show have to squeeze trhough in between. They must decide to face either him or her. It is an interesting piece about the violation of personal distance-zone.
3. Solo works from 1995 – 2005
She won the Golden Lion for best artist at the 1997 Venice Biennale with her impressive performance ‘Balkan Baroque’: It consists on one side of 3 large-scale video-projections of herself, her father (a former Yugoslavian general) and her mother. On the other side she sat herself on a pile of 6,000 lbs. of stinking cow bones, cleaning them with a brush. A great piece on the Balkan wars of that time! Unfortunately, here at the MoMA this piece is not as impressive as it was in Venice: It lacks the putrid smell of the uncleaned cow bones. (However, the museum guards may wellcome that...)
4. New York from 2001 – today
In 2005, she did ‘Seven Easy Pieces’ at the Guggenheim Museum in New York: She reperformed 2 pieces by herself and 5 pieces from the 1960s and 1970s by other artists, like Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci or Valie Export. She did this because of her frustration with current mass media’s representation of these pieces. She missed the lack of understanding for the historic contexts in which they were originally performed. The title is misleading - it took her 12 years to get the rights to reperform these pieces by other performance artists. With this series of performances at the Guggenheim, she contributed to the discussion about the possibility to conserve performance art within the conetxt of a museum.
Today, Ms. Abramovic is absolutely not surprised about the current revival of performance art, ‘In every crisis after an art market boom, there was a focus on performance art.’ Then, the art market moved on to more tangible - easier to sell - art…
In contrary to the much younger Tino Sehgal, Marina Abramovic’s art is not so much about the strict avoidance of a materialized work of art. This is one effect, but not her main goal. I think her art t is primarily about the intensive and authentic experience. She is a very impressive and courageous woman.
If there is blood – there is real blood…
Marina Abramovic: ‘The Artist is Present’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York
Through 31 May 2010
Great show - go to New York and see that!