April 16th, 2010

I just got back from a trip to New York, highlighted by a stop to MOMA for the much-hyped  Marina Abramović performance “The Artist Is Present.” Coming from my small-town park City art gallery, it’s always a welcome shock to see the galleries and museums of New York. I am awed by the variety of art forms, the multitude of galleries, and the haughty attitudes of the “gallerina” art gallery staff.

But back to MOMA. Marina Abramovic, a 63-year-old artist who was born in Yugoslavia, is one of the great pioneers of performance art. Her first U.S. retrospective, “The Artist Is Present,” is at MOMA now, for a total of 90 days. For her MoMA retrospective, Abramovic is (daily) performing a new piece called “The Artist Is Present,” staged in the museum’s central atrium. During all the hours her show is open, Abramovic sits silently on one side of a table, while visitors can choose to face her for a while in a second chair. The Washington Post sums it up here:  “The comings and goings of these invited guests help underline the implacable stillness that Abramovic has committed herself to.”

I read a blog about a woman who dressed as Abramovic (red dress, identical hair) and sat across from her all day as a part of her own art piece. And a man I spoke to  at MOMA has been there every week, always waiting at least 4 hours to sit with her. He’s finding it addictive. No, I did not sit. The intense lighting that burns down on Abromovic and her seated guest was enough to keep me away.

For me, the most compelling part of the retrospective is not the nudity or the graphic self-flagellation.  It’s how the exhibit forces me to question my own sense of self. What is “comfortable”? How do I feel about death? Nudity? Time? It’s exhausting to walk through the exhibit and mentally put yourself in the performers’ shoes. If you’re in New York, you have to go. What do you think of performance as art? What would you do/say/think of in the chair?

Learn/experience/question more here: Marina Abramovic at MOMA.