Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present WAS at the MoMa

One Friday afternoon in May, a friend and I decided to visit the MoMa to see some of Henri Cartier Bresson's works. After our visit to Bresson's work, to our surprise, we discovered this other exhibit: Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present. And, yes, the artist was present! Abramovic, the lady sitting in white on the left side, is the performing artist who is the first to have a live/performing art exhibit at MoMa.

There are many facets to this exhibit, that well, if you didn't attend, you would have wished you did. The exhibit ran from March 14 to May 31, 2010, and during that time, Marina was sitting in a chair, in an atrium from the opening of the museum to the closing of the museum, as spectators were invited to "sit" across from her. Although no motion or talking was permitted, people who sat with her mentioned that though no words were exchanged per se, there was some form of communication happening between Marina and the participants. A few guards at the exhibit mentioned that every person has a different reaction -- some teared, some laughed, while others attempted to have a staring contest with their stone-cold face (which of course didn't last that long!). Some said that if there were able to pass the five minute mark (there is no time counter around), then you could sit for much longer than that. One man, who previously sat with her for over a hour and a half, and who sat with Marina until the museum closed stated that there was a field of energy spoken between them, something indescribable, yet emotional. He didn't even notice he was sitting there for one and half hours. After asking him why he returned, he noted that he wanted to see it again and perhaps sit with her one more time. Truly incredible, I thought. Its just too bad, it was nearing 7 pm, the line was still ten people deep with a few people waiting since 10:30 that morning, and the museum was closing at 8 pm. "Better Luck, Tomorrow", I said. Wow, I can't believe people lined up well before the 10:30 am opening to have a "possibility' to sit with Marina. But if that's what it takes to be a part of Marina's work, then that's what it takes -- lets just hope for anyone who waited that they weren't behind the person who sat for 7 hours! In total, Marina sat for 736 hours and 30 minutes -- and during each day's performance, she didn't have water, food or a bathroom break.

Other parts of the museum exhibited Marina and her then partner Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen) past works, including re-performances of their prior works (which I've learned is a fau-paux in the performing art world). The live performances included: two people (usually male and female) standing naked in a doorway where people are expected to pass through (Imponderabilia performed in 1977), two people fully clothed standing across from each other pointing their finger at one another, one person standing naked on top of what looks like a bicycle and every now and then moves her arms in a pre-determined way, one person laying naked with a skeleton on top of their body and... there were others. The most intriguing of these performances was "squeezing" through a narrow doorway formed by two naked people. As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do -- so I was there, and I did it. I, like many other people were afraid to accidentally graze by the man's personal "belongings". But, there was no way to avoid it and the only thing you could do or say was "sorry" afterwards, but of course, the performers were not allowed to wince or say anything. So they didn't. Yikes.

Marina also had a series of videos from her past performances with Ulay, which included them slapping one another (yes, sound was included) and another video of Marina and Ulay walking towards one another from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China (Yellow Sea and Gobi desert, respectively) -- each walking 2500km to meet in the middle, only to say "Good-bye" to one another after working together for 12 years. According to wikipedia, Marina later described the three month walk, "We needed a certain form of ending, after this huge distance walking towards each other. It is very human. It is in a way more dramatic, more like a film ending … Because in the end you are really alone, whatever you do.”

Other exhibits included pieces from past performances, including twenty knives from Rhythm 10, 1973, where the artist played the Russian game in which rhythmic knife jabs are aimed between the splayed finger of her hand, similar to what happened in the "Alien" movie (yes, you know what I'm talking about -- spread your five fingers and quickly rotate through the fingers with the knife; however, if the knife happened to land in her hand, she would have to start again with a new knife. After 20 knife jabs, she replayed a recording of her performance and set off to do the same performance again, but only trying to repeat the same sounds and movement as her original). Why you might ask would she do this? I'm not sure, but Rhythm 10 was one of her first performances of exploration of ritual and gesture, and you will see this sense of -- defying what seems to be impossible in her later works as well -- whether it to test her body, her mental capacity, her audience or anything that could be tested -- she did.

Test - extreme body pain - CHECK, -- Rhythm 5, 1974
Test - state of unconsciousness - CHECK - Rhythm 2, 1974
Test - relationship of performer and audience - CHECK - Rhythm 0, 1974
Test - test oxygen - CHECK -- Death Self (exchanged breaths with Ulay 17 minutes until both fell unconscious)

To continue on with the MoMa exhibit, in a separate space were 6,000 pounds of cow bones, which Marina decided to "clean" in a previous performance and was on display at MoMa (there definitely was a smell in this room -- eeks; to learn more about how they got it from Amsterdam to here, click here). Lastly, there was also a video of her Seven Easy Pieces performed at the Guggenheim Museum in November 2005, where she re-performed certain works of past artists (to pay her respect) and also included two of her own works.

In totality, the Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, was something I have not witnessed before and was pleasantly surprised. I do admit, I did "wince" at certain parts, but found the art work unique and expressive in its own form -- but everyone who sees this or saw this had to have an open mind to appreciate Marina's art work. And if you were one of the lucky few who waited in line and sat with Marina, you

If you missed this rare opportunity to see one of Marina Abramovic's performances, you'll have to find a clip of it online, wait for it to be produced on video, or wait for her next exhibition which is currently unknown at this time.


For a slideshow of the people who sat with her, view this. All photos are from Marco Anelli, who according to his website worked with her in 2007 as well. You may see some celebrities like Sharon Stone!

If you want to know how it was to "sit" with her, you can read this article from
The New York Times from the Opinionator: Arthur C. Danto

Pictures of her on closing day... and the artist's words to how she felt, thought, and even trained for this historic three-month long piece... She even goes on to explain why some people may have had emotional break-throughs while sitting with her -- for an interesting read, click here.

If you want to know about the person who sat with her 21 times, read here -- he even tattooed the number on his arm!

For Facebook fans, you can join the club "Sitting with Marina" and for other stories you might have missed on the three month exhibit, click here.

Separately, do not miss Henri Cartier Bresson's work which will be there until June 28th. For free entrance to the MoMa, go on Target Fridays, which is EVERY Friday from 4:00 p.m to 8:00 pm.
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