Thursday, March 11, 2010

Marina Abramović at the Museum of Modern Art


Marina Abramović, stills of The Artist is Present, 2010, at the Museum of Modern Art, March 9, 2010. Photos: 16 Miles [more]

Seeing Marina Abramović’s performance at the Museum of Modern Art on Saturday afternoon and Tuesday evening made me think back to a great story that art historian Rosalind Krauss told in Artforum, back in 1972, about a visit to the Fogg Art Museum to see “Three American Painters,” which included work by Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, and Frank Stella. Krauss said that, while visiting there with Harvard professor Michael Fried, an angry Harvard student approached the two of them, demanding answers. She wrote:
With his left arm raised and his finger pointing to the Stella, he confronted Michael Fried. 'What's so good about that?' he demanded. Fried looked back at him. "Look," he said slowly, "there are days when Stella goes to the Metropolitan Museum. And he sits for hours looking at the Velázquez, utterly knocked out by them and then he goes back to his studio. What he would like more than anything else is to paint like Velázquez. But what he knows is that is an option that is not open to him. So he paints stripes." Fried’s voice had risen. "He wants to be Velázquez so he paints stripes."


In James Westcott’s new biography on the artist, When Marina Abramović Dies, he argues that Abramović’s performances have become increasingly minimal over her career. In her earliest pieces, in works like Rhythm 0, 1974 — in which she invited audience members to take a host of props, including a knife, scissors, and lip stick to her passive, naked body — she relied heavily on props and theatrics, but by the late-1970s, working with her then-lover Ulay, she had shed some of that dramatic bent. Later, Light/Dark, 1977, involved Abramovic and Ulay slapping each other repeatedly for 20 minutes. Night Sea Cross, performed dozens of times over many years, saw the two of them sitting at the table, staring at each other. Their final piece, The Lovers, had them simply walking from either end of the Great Wall of China, meeting in the middle. And by 2002, in The House with the Ocean View (the performance lampooned in an episode of Sex and the City), she simply lived on a platform in the Sean Kelly Gallery for twelve days.



Now Abramovic has embarked on The Artist Is Present, in which she will sit at a table, across from an open chair for 716 hours and 30 minutes (thank you to Holland Cotter for the exact calculation) on the floor of MoMA’s atrium. Sharp, bright lights tower over her from each corner of her spare set, stripping away the much of the baroque glamour that one has come to associate with Abramovic. MoMA’s retrospective on its sixth-floor is a reliquary, presenting artifacts from and documentation of Abramovic’s earlier performances, but down below, the show’s saint sits motionless, under harsh light and the stares of museum patrons, resolutely human.

To follow Fried’s logic, it is as if she knows that she is capable of self-inflicted beatings, violence, and psychological turmoil in pursuit of art, and yet is aware “that is an option that is not open” to her. She has completed those trials and been championed as a hero and a martyr. Here, she chooses to suffer silently, almost invisibly, rather than resort to the shock and melodrama that marked some of her past work. She is clearly in pain as she sits in the atrium for hours each day — a grimace will pass over her face, a tear will stream down her cheek while sharing a look with someone — but it is almost imperceptible.



Tyler Green has recently explored the references to torture in Bruce Nauman’s audio work, Days, and it is shockingly present here, too, as Abramovic locks herself in a seemingly commonplace posture that will grow brutally painful over time, a stress position not unlike those used by interrogators within certain elements of the United States military and intelligence services. But beyond this element of suffering, Abramovic’s piece is also notable within her body of work for its remarkable generosity. Any person is invited to sit across from her, and they are welcome to stay as long as they choose. Rather than act as the distant stunt-woman, whipping or starving herself for the admiring crowd (or serving as the passive body for the mob to act on), she positions herself as level with her audience as she endures.

Abramovic, of course, is not a Modernist like Fried, marching ahead in pursuit of aesthetic progress. She will no doubt perform again after this work, and that future performance may see her adopt again one of her previous roles as daredevil or martyr. No matter. This is her masterpiece.



More: "Present and Past" at Artinfo

13 comments:

Donald Frazell said...

May it be the epitaph to an era, that of Meism and Excess. Where the individual dares to present oneself as martyr, which like a handle, monicur, nickname, cannot be given to oneself without being arrogant and a fraud. And this is exactly that. A peformance piece of ones own superiority, when its really weakness. What she does is not excatly healthy, balanced, or unifying of mind body and soul. The visual revelation of which is arts purpose.

Contempt art is over, dead, Rest In Hell. It is about an effete group who weakly aspires to greatness, not humanity. It is a fraud, an absurdist play to make teh rich feel better about themselves, amusement, entertainment, fashion. Art is eternal, that which lasts is that which finds what is essentially human, and continues to trigger such oneness in future generations. This is but a historical footnoot of human hubris.

And extraordnarily boring, for those with far too much time and money on their hands. Time to get a life.

It is time to puts aside childish things.
President Obama

art collegia delenda est

Greg Allen said...

Great writeup, Andrew. Sorry to see the LA Times' favorite retrograde commenting demagogue has found his way to your site, too.

Howie G said...

There is the curious issue of the public’s response to the piece which involves the artist quietly posed for hours at a time, adorned in flowing dresses at a table in the middle of a large empty square, beneath spotlights. Meanwhile, several other Abramovic pieces are being performed by other artists on the sixth floor of the Museum. Some patrons, though have rewritten the rules. On Friday, March 12, Baradaran also takes off a trench coat that he is wearing and reveals a red, long-flowing dress then offers a proposal of marriage, though, really to the body of her work. This brings into the intervention the question of sexual identity. In the second act, Baradaran is in a suit jacket, but has over his face a series of veils made out of canvas. The first veil has written, “In-out,” conjuring up the fundamental question of what determines an artist’s worth and ability to go on display in a museum and gain the approval of society while others are not even recognized. The second veil-message is vague, saying, “I am a nurse from New Zealand.” It refers to Abramovic’s selective desire for anonymity. Another veil has written “Non-resident alien”- a difficult identity. The alien is one who is not accepted, confronted with regulations, and in this case the nearby presence of security guards. A last veil states, “the passing of the artist,” symbolizing the independent identity of the artwork as opposed to the identity of the artist who creates it. Baradaran turns in his third act to Sufi chanting in Arabic, a language foreign to the Persian Baradaran, who is drawn off into mysticism, while contemplating, and changing the Abramovic event. Baradaran’s song speaks of beauty calling to mind the title of one of Abramovic’s works, “Art is Beautiful, the Artist Must Be Beautiful”. As Baradaran exits, he leaves his possessions on the table, both altering the surroundings, and forcing the taciturn security guards to react and pick up and take the objects to him. This goes along with Baradaran’s theory of art- that to alter and interrupt the flow of a performance art show is to change it forever. Baradaran has interrupted the minimalist exhibit of Abramavic, bringing to it his spiritual intensity and even his tears.

The final act in the intervention of “The Other Artist is Present,” takes place outside the museum. While he may be outside the museum seated at a replica wooden table pushed up against the glass, he is the mirror image of the exhibit inside. The other artist becomes an independent focus of public attention, with many people photographing him with their cell phone cameras. Thus Baradaran still manages to penetrate inside the art exhibit even as an outsider. Though he has been removed, he is fully participating in the artistic experience of Abramovic’s performance, showing that the museum cannot dictate the place of valid expression. More at http://www.amirbaradaran.com/

Howie G said...

There is the curious issue of the public’s response to the piece which involves the artist quietly posed for hours at a time, adorned in flowing dresses at a table in the middle of a large empty square, beneath spotlights. Meanwhile, several other Abramovic pieces are being performed by other artists on the sixth floor of the Museum. Some patrons, though have rewritten the rules. On Friday, March 12, Baradaran also takes off a trench coat that he is wearing and reveals a red, long-flowing dress then offers a proposal of marriage, though, really to the body of her work. This brings into the intervention the question of sexual identity. In the second act, Baradaran is in a suit jacket, but has over his face a series of veils made out of canvas. The first veil has written, “In-out,” conjuring up the fundamental question of what determines an artist’s worth and ability to go on display in a museum and gain the approval of society while others are not even recognized. The second veil-message is vague, saying, “I am a nurse from New Zealand.” It refers to Abramovic’s selective desire for anonymity. Another veil has written “Non-resident alien”- a difficult identity. The alien is one who is not accepted, confronted with regulations, and in this case the nearby presence of security guards. A last veil states, “the passing of the artist,” symbolizing the independent identity of the artwork as opposed to the identity of the artist who creates it. Baradaran turns in his third act to Sufi chanting in Arabic, a language foreign to the Persian Baradaran, who is drawn off into mysticism, while contemplating, and changing the Abramovic event. Baradaran’s song speaks of beauty calling to mind the title of one of Abramovic’s works, “Art is Beautiful, the Artist Must Be Beautiful”. As Baradaran exits, he leaves his possessions on the table, both altering the surroundings, and forcing the taciturn security guards to react and pick up and take the objects to him. This goes along with Baradaran’s theory of art- that to alter and interrupt the flow of a performance art show is to change it forever. Baradaran has interrupted the minimalist exhibit of Abramavic, bringing to it his spiritual intensity and even his tears.

The final act in the intervention of “The Other Artist is Present,” takes place outside the museum. While he may be outside the museum seated at a replica wooden table pushed up against the glass, he is the mirror image of the exhibit inside. The other artist becomes an independent focus of public attention, with many people photographing him with their cell phone cameras. Thus Baradaran still manages to penetrate inside the art exhibit even as an outsider. Though he has been removed, he is fully participating in the artistic experience of Abramovic’s performance, showing that the museum cannot dictate the place of valid expression. More at http://www.amirbaradaran.com/

Donald Frazell said...

I can think of few "questions' and ideas less relevant to the world as a whole, to humanities future and definition of who we are. This is kids stuff, created in a childlike Self absorbed, SELF expressionist environment. That MoMA has wasted its time on contempt art is sad, but as it is just an event, and the film will be stored behind hudreds of other insipid such perfromances in the futre and not waste permanent space is fine. At lest entertained the effette for awhile, as that is contempt arts only role now.

Time to get back to arts purpose, to define Humanity, to explore nature, and search for god, for purpose, whatever that means to you, through the artists developed filter shit detector. That filter these days just catches the shit for presentation as something worthwhile, and lets the essence of man float away. As this an all her, absuridst plays are all about the "cleveness' of the decadent and spoiled individual. incredibly vain and boring. Mankind nowhere to be found.

Hey greg! howya doin! have a nice day!

art colegia delenda est

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