Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Performance Art at the MoMA

Marina Abramovic is sitting like a queen, a priestess, in the middle of the atrium at the MOMA. Her subjects can face her and gaze at her eyes as long as they feel like. The line is long, and there is a crowd watching the scene. "The Artist Is Present" is a Performance Art show, with the artist sitting daily from the opening of the museum till it closes.
The day I visited, she was wearing a white gown. It looked like she was still in her comfortable bathrobe and it felt homey. This red gown would be appropriate for Christmas. Is she afraid of her aging body? Days after days, she is facing a viewer at a time, surrounded by the crowd but ...absent. Did the patient visitors feel different after this lifetime experience? Was this like hypnosis? Did she communicate some energy? Was this encounter uplifting? What occurred during these long minutes or hours? Watching this event, I was quickly bored and ...

went on to the upper floor. Ignoring the warnings at the start of the exhibition, I plunged into the noise and the images to look at 40 years of the retrospective... It was not a pleasant experience: looking at a beautiful woman screaming till she passes out, self-inflicting wounds , reaching a catatonic state after ingesting medications... The videos were graphic.
Several performances were reenacted by actors.These are not "Happenings", spontaneous with the involvement of the viewer. They are well rehearsed pieces, with very slow motion, forcing the visitor to stay and stare. Voyeurism? Interest? An actor is lying naked with a skeleton on top of him in "Nude with Skeleton" (2002). An actress perched high along a wall, naked on a bicycle seat, moves her arms slowly at times in "Luminosity" (1997). Was it shocking? Not really, I did not feel involved and just watched.
Freud would have brought an interesting side to this exhibition.
A video shows Marina naked wearing only the hat from her mother (or father) with the communist star, standing mesmerized with blood oozing from the wound drawn on her belly (the five pointed star). One can imagine the little girl, who never felt loved by her powerful communist mother, rebelling.
The beautiful scene with the arrow titled "Rest Energy" (1980), made me think about these old postcards lovers used to send each other. But can it be reenacted with actors? The intensity of the relationship between Ulay and Marina Abramovic which transpire in this scene cannot be reproduced.
The artist who mixes her history and Balkan's history early on, has developped a cult of personality over the years, and this weakens her message.
A debate is heating up among performance artists ( galleries, copyright lawyers, museums). Who should perform? The artist only? Can actors reenact a performance? As a viewer, I feel that the point to all of this art is to look at the artist perform. The performance belongs to the creator, otherwise it feels like looking at a copy. The presence of the artist, his/her aura is essential to the performance of the work. I found the videos powerful because I was looking at Marina Abramovic, the artist, struggling, suffering, conquering her fears, her mind and body. How can some actor reenact this?
This is the path the artists has to go through to reach beyond. Watching another human being suffer, struggle, is unsettling. I think that the videos had more impact on me than the reenactments because I felt some empathy for the artist, the actor is paid and doing a job. This experience was thought provoking. Art is not always pleasant to look at.

The cult of personality...because Marina Abramovic is unique.

links to photographs http://www.flickr.com/photos/sixteenmiles/4422517148/


no photographs were allowed

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