Alright kiddies, bear with me for this…it’s gonna be a wild one. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll confirm two things. Number one: I’m not a fan of female artists (I know. Boo hiss) Number two: I hate performance art. So when given the chance to view the highly publicized and risqué MOMA exhibition of the female performance artist Marina Abramovic’, I wasn’t really jumping for joy. I’m sure many of you have heard about The Artist Is Present on the news or daytime talk shows such as the View because (gasp) there are naked people. Live naked people, can you believe it….and in NYC? I know, wrap you brain around that and regroup. I will give you a moment.
So with that being said and understood, let me assure you that factoid is the least controversial part of this exhibition. Furthermore, let me slap you in the face with something more unbelievable. This magical woman, Marina Abramovic’, has totally rocked my world and she is now one of my favorite artists. It takes a lot to banish something from my long-standing list of “things I hate” (it’s a long list), but Abramovic has done it, and now I shall explain why:
When walking into the 6th floor gallery at the MOMA one thing is very clear – damn, there are a lot of people here on a Wednesday afternoon! I guess that is great for the artist and her status but it sucks for me, the viewer. Not that I am opposed to viewing art in a large crowd, but I am opposed to stupid people, and there was no shortage of that here. Now I am not a Abramovic’ specialist, actually I didn’t know a thing about her until today, but I took the time to read all of the work descriptions on the wall, her bio at the entrance of the exhibit, and her own written words describing important events in her childhood/young adult life that made her the crazy masochist she is today. Let me shorthand one event I read that stuck with me and still gives me chills…
When Abramovic’s mother was pregnant with her, her mother had a dream that she gave birth to a snake and died. This made her mother very anxious. When Abramovic’ was born, the doctors didn’t realize that part of the placenta was still inside. Her mother became very ill from infection and blamed it on her daughter, whom she thought was evil and trying to kill her. Marina Abramovic’s mother sent her away to her grandparent and she didn’t see her birth parents again until she was 6, and was called back to live with them.
That is one of the more tame stories of abuse, violence, and cruelty that Abramovic’ had to endure in her young life, mostly at the hands of her mother. Her family and culture plays a large role in the painful performances of this artist. Born in 1946 in Belgrade she is a New York based Serbian/Yugoslavian from a broken home who wasn’t allowed out of the house after 10pm until she was 29 years old. Fun, right? If I had to stay in the house with a crazy abusive mom for 29 years I would mutilate myself too. There are so many gut wrenching stories exposed in the exhibit I could write 100 pages about it, but I won’t. So onto the art, shall we?
I’m only going to tell ya’ll about four pieces from Abramovic’ that moved me the most. There are so many many many many things to say about each one of her works, and it would break my heart to give you the Cliff’s Notes on all of them, seeing that they are so subjective and truly have to be viewed in person. But I will try my best to paint the emotional picture that Abramovic’ tried to do for me.
Jordi’s Top 4 Countdown Of Marina Abramovic’ Pieces
#4 – Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG, reenactment of Marina Abramovic’ and Ulay’s Imponderabilia, 2007.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the piece that started all the controversy. Abramovic’ and her long time partner in performance art crime, Ulay, were masters at coming up with performances that focuses on the breaking point of the human spirit and the body’s kinetic energy. Let me tell you simply what this is – two naked people standing across from each other (originally Abramovic’ and Ulay) in a narrow doorway (very narrow) and you, the viewer, have to walk in between them. It’s a study on being conscious of nudity and energy, as well as the discomfort of the artist being on display and standing motionless for hours on end, and the viewer walking through two naked people with everyone watching. When I saw this on TV, I thought, “no big deal, I’ll do it”, but guess what? I wimped out. I have no problem with nudity, but the doorway was so small and I didn’t want to risk the embarrassment of brushing my big purse on anyone penis, so needless to say, point awarded to Abramovic’.
Let me explain to you what one is looking at with this exhibit. An eerily dark, large open room with a Last Supper-esque table filled with 72 objects ranging from:
Gun, bullet, whip, lipstick, cotton, spoon, rose, hammer, saw, kitchen knife, bread, wine, soap, yarn, wire, shoes, chair, sheet of white paper, metal spear, chains, Polaroid camera, brush, etc.
Originally in 1974, in Naples, Abramovic’ stood for 6 hours and let anyone do anything to her using the tools on the table. She also had a document displayed that said if anyone killed her during this performance they should not be prosecuted. Yes, you read that right. This is why I love this crazy masochist woman. She is simply a master at transcending her body and her willingness to experience it all (pain,pleasure,torture,death). She doesn’t ask you to deal with her pain. She wants it all for herself, and enjoys the ride. And, happy ending, she doesn’t die. But the teary-eyed painful pictures of Abramovic’ on display, showing her in various states of torture and ridicule, will take your breathe away. Next!
As I stroll into the next room of the gallery I am smack dab confronted with a naked man lying in his back on an elevated platform with a full skeleton lying spine down upon the naked subject. I thought, as I’m sure you are now “what the f*%k is this?” I am not put off by the guy in the buff lying in front of me, but the bewilderment of trying to figure out what is Abramovic’ trying to say with this. Then I read the artist statement. Abramovic’ performed this in 2002 and clocked over 600 hours of this performance in the gallery. Her intention of this exercise is to show the skeleton moving up and down with the breathing patterns of the living being. Showing that one should feel comfort with inevitable unavoidable death. You know what? As strange as it sounds, after I read the explanation and took a few serene breaths myself, it made sense. Epiphany thinks not, but something definitely made sense.
Drum roll please…this is the be all end all most earth shattering thing I experienced from this exhibit. I walked up to a collection of pictures of Abramovic’ and her partner Ulay walking upon the Great Wall of China.” So what?”, I think to myself…then I read the artist statement…are you ready for this? Originally for this piece Abramovic’ and Ulay were going to start walking at opposite sides of the Great wall of China, meet in the middle, and get married. This would be a painstaking testament of love, as it would take each of them 90 days to complete the trip. It took the couple 8 years to secure the travel permit and proper papers from the Chinese government and within that time their relationship fell apart. Instead of calling the whole endeavor off, they took it upon themselves to make the mentally and physically taxing journey of the Great Wall of China to meet in the middle to severe their relationship forever. She, starting on the eastern wall and Ulay starting on the west. Can you imagine? Walking three months non-stop only to meet in the middle and say “blow me, I never want to see you again.” All the while of that walk thinking of the end of not only of the death of your love but the death of your partner. And from that day forth, she never spoke to Ulay again and began her now legendary solo career. WHAT? OH NO SHE DIDN’T! I DIE. AMAZING! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT!
As you can see, I feel very strongly about this woman, and she didn’t even have to say a word. The cherry on the Sunday for this collection is that Abramovic’ herself is sitting at the MOMA (hence the The Artist Is Present title of this collection) stoically waiting for you to join her. From Museum opening till closing she sits under hot lights, not able to move, speak, eat, go to the bathroom, awaiting patrons to sit across a long wooden table to stare at her. You can become part of her art piece..after being mortified by her ones of the past. If that doesn’t shake you up, god help you. I have nothing more to say.