Today was the last day of the phenomenal performance art retrospective by Marina Abramović (“The Artist is Present”). I missed the hijinks, and it didn’t make me cry, but I’m wondering if I will ever enjoy an exhibit at the MoMA as much as Abramović’s. Since its opening week, I’ve seen it at least a half-dozen times, each time noticing something new (some of the exhibits are video recordings as long as an hour).
It was the type of art that sounds like attention-seeking drek if you try describing it (“She’s naked and she walks into a wall really fast. She’s naked and she cuts a pentgram in herself. She’s naked and she dances until she faints!”). But the MoMA did a masterful job of arranging her work; what could’ve been a simple cheap thrill (like brushing past two naked models to get into the exhibit) became a profound and sensical ensemble of her life’s work.
The New York Times describes a brief roundup of her work (the author, Holland Cotter, is dismissive of the MoMA’s restaging of her work, mostly because Cotter thinks that the unpredictability of Abramovic’s art is what gave it its power. I’d be inclined to agree if I hadn’t heard of her before now):
Her solo work from the early 1970s was hair-raisingly nervy. She stabbed herself, took knockout drugs, played with fire. For one piece she stood silent in a gallery for six hours, having announced that visitors could do anything they wanted to her physically. At one point a man held a gun to her neck. Her eyes filled with tears, but she didn’t flinch.
In 1976 she started collaborating with the German artist Uwe Laysiepen, known as Ulay. Some of their performances were punishing athletic events, as they slammed their bodies together or into walls. Others were almost aggressively passive. For a piece called “Imponderabilia” they stood facing each other, nude, in a narrow doorway in a museum. Anyone wanting to go from one gallery to another had no choice but to squeeze awkwardly and intimately between them.