Monday, March 22, 2010

Jill Krementz covers Marina Abramović at MoMA

Portrait with Firewood, 2009; Black-and-white digital print.

Performance is about being in the present, it's about creating a luminous state of being.
— Marina Abramović
Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present
The Museum of Modern Art
March 14-May 31, 2010

Marina Abramović, born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1946, is internationally recognized for her ground-breaking performance work. Using her own body as subject, object and medium, the artist explores the physical and mental limits of her being in the quest of artistic, intellectual, emotional and spiritual transformation.

MoMA's exhibition is the first large-scale retrospective of Abramović's pioneering work. There are fifty works spanning over four decades of her projected videos, installations, photography, solo performances and collaborations. These works include five “reperformances” of influential historical pieces by 39 rotating performers who trained extensively with Marina.

In the atrium upon entering the museum, visitors can see, and participate in, the world premiere of a new work performed by Abramović herself.

The Artist is Present
has been organized by Klaus Biesenbach, MoMA's Chief Curator at Large and Director of P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center.

You will not be bored.
Marina Abramović performing The Artist is Present in MoMA's atrium. Ms. Abramović sits in a wooden chair on one side of a wooden table for a continuous performance of seven hours. Visitors are invited to sit in the opposite chair and interact with the artist for an unspecified amount of time.

Performance is a mental and physical construction that I step into, in front of an audience, in a specific time and place. And then the performance actually happens: it's based on energy values. It is very important that a public is present; I couldn't do it privately; that wouldn't be performance. Nor would I have the energy to do it. For me it is crucial that the energy actually comes from the audience and translates through me--I filter it and let it go back to the audience. The larger the audience, the better the performance, because there is more energy I can work with. It's not just about emotions.
If asked to define what performance art is, every artist would give a different response. 'Performance art' is such a vague term. Performance can be music, dance or theater, so it's not really a precise term for my kind of work--we will never find the right designation. Every profession has its tool. Performance is the tool I choose for bringing me to the moment.
I don't want an audience to spend time with me looking at my work. I want them to be with me and forget about time. Open up the space and just that moment of here and now, of nothing, there is no future and there is no past. In that way you can extend eternity. It is about being present. There are so many different meditation traditions all around the world that are connected with this issue: how to get into the moment of now, that is always escaping us.
Both time and space are so important. It's critical to determine this space where things will happen. And then you have to allot a certain amount of time that you are going to give yourself to make things happen, in which things are going to happen.
Performance art is one of the most difficult art forms. The performance is really about presence.
If you escape presence, your performance is gone. It is always you, the mind, and the body.
You have to be in the here and now, one hundred percent. If you're not, the public is like a dog: they sense the insecurity. Then they just leave.
The Marina Abramović exhibition, The Artist is Present, continues on the sixth floor of MoMA.
Daniela Stigh, Assistant Director of the Department of Communications at MoMA.

This is definitely one of my favorite pieces of continuous performance art which appears from time to time at the exhibition (whenever Ms. Stigh is on the 6th floor). Ms. Stigh's twin sons, performing totally nude (but hidden from view by a purple sweater), will be born in July.
Daniela Stigh's credentials.
This is at entrance to 6th floor exhibition. It's the black Citroën bus in which the artist and her lover, Ulay, traveled around in during their nomadic years together. One year was spent living with the Aborigines in the Central Australian desert.
The windshield of the Citroën.
The interior of the Citroën. There is a total of 14 black and white photographs.
Richard Oldenburg, former director of MoMA. Points of Contact
Nick Morgan, a student at N.Y.U., is the young man on the right in this installation in which visitors are invited to participate with a performing artist. Mr. Morgan is a "distant relative" of Richard Oldenburg's.
Relation in Time
The performers sit back to back, tied together by their hair, not moving.

For the show at MoMA, Abramović has enlisted, and trained, 39 young "re-performers" who perform in rotating shifts. Many are dancers and some teach Pilates or yoga. They are all in very good shape.

At a certain point an artist has gained invaluable experience and wants to pass it on to a younger generation. I think this is a very important take of an artist. I have always said that the artist is a servant of society.
The German artist Ulay, Abramović's former lover and collaborator. They met one another in 1975 in Amsterdam when he picked her up at the airport. The chemistry between them was instant. They remained together, collaborating for twelve years. On March 30, 1988, they embarked on their last performance which commenced at the great wall of China. She walked East and he walked West.
A MoMA guard keeping watch over the performers. Visitors are asked not to take photographs because it disturbs the concentration of the artists.
In a chosen place

Two performers stand naked, opposite one another, in a door frame. The alternating couples are sometimes same sex, sometimes opposite. Visitors passing through the space must decide which performer they will face.
Fashion designer Nanette Lepore. Artist William Kentridge and his daughter Isabella. Ms. Kentridge is studying history at university in Johannesburg. Kentridge's retrospective, Five Themes, is on display at MoMA until May 13, of 2010. There are a few more performances of Shostakovich's opera, The Nose, designed and directed by Kentridge, at The Metropolitan Opera.
David Ross, former Director of the Whitney Museum. Referring to the installation on the wall, Luminosity, Mr. Ross quipped: "As Gertrude Stein used to say, I always like a good view behind me." The performance artist is sitting on a mounted bicycle seat.
Jodi Hauptman, a curator at MoMA; Glenn Lowry, MoMA's director, and David Ross. Glenn Lowry and Klaus Biesenbach. Mr. Biesenbach, the curator of this exhibition, is the recently appointed director of the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center.
Janet Wallach, Robert Menschel, Jerry Speyer, and Klaus Biesenbach.
Ariella Budick, art critic for the Financial Times. Janet Wallach and Sarah Meister. Ms. Wallach has written eight books, including Desert Queen, a biography of the adventurer, Gertrude Bell. Ms. Meister is a curator in MoMA's Department of Photography and is working on the upcoming exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Helen Mathers, who took a turn at being an installation on the empty bench inviting visitors to sit, lie or "perform." Helen Mathers and Rya Kleinpeter. Said Mathers: "I have a male body but my spirit has no gender. The people I'm attracted to are always a mystery."
Kathy Halbreich, Associate Director of MoMA, painter Suzanne Scott, and Chuck Close. Paul Jackson, who worked on PR for the evening reception.
Daemian Smith, a 29-year-old photographer from Texas who is videotaping Marina Abramović's installation of herself at MoMA. Michael Dudect Witch Doctor. That's what it says on the front of his card. On the reverse is written: "The Source Of The Question Is The Answer It Seeks." Mr. Dudect is a performance artist from Winnipeg, Canada but because of a last minute visa problem he could not be one of the performing artists in the MoMA exhibition: "So I flew in to be a shaman for Marina and the other performers in the show."
Lisa Rosen and Walter Robinson. Ms. Rosen runs a company called Fine Art Restoration. Mr. Robinson is the editor of ArtNet Magazine. They recently got married at City Hall. Shawna McBean wearing a sweater she designed. Her clothes may be seen on weekends in her booth at the Nolita Market on Mott Street.
Ricardo Kugelmas, who works as an assistant to the artist Francesco Clemente. Luciana Brito owns an art gallery in Sao Paolo.
April Hunt, Press Officer at P.S.1, with Shawna McBean. Julia McFarlane and Elaine Louie. Ms. McFarlane, former co-owner of Ad Hoc Softwares in Soho, is now at Aero. Ms. Louie, a staff member of The New York Times, wrote a front page feature on Abramović's two homes for the the Home Section on March 4, 2010.
Balkan Erotic Epic, Massaging the Breast, 2005
A projection from multichannel video installation (color, sound, duration variable)
Balkan Erotic Epic, Massaging the Breast, 2005
A projection from multichannel video installation (color, sound, duration variable)
Nude with Skeleton
Reperformed continuously in shifts throughout this exhibition for a total of over 700 hours.
Nude with Skeleton
Video (color, sound); 15.46 min.
Balkan Baroque, 1997
C-print from three-channel video installation. XLVII
Biennal, Venice
Abramović' washing 1,500 fresh cow bones in the middle of the installation, continuously singing folk songs from her childhood.
Abramović's lab coat after washing the cow bones, and the bucket that held the water with which she washed them.
Installation of cleaned cow bones. On the rear wall, a projection of the artist in the center and her parents on either side.
Detail of the clean cow bones.
Balkan Erotic Epic, Banging the Skull, 2005
Installation (color, sound) duration variable
Marina with Full Box, 1983
Ulay with Empty Box,
Polaroid Photographs
Video of the artist.
Video of the artist.
In 1980, Marina Abramović and Ulay performed Rest Energy. A bow and arrow is aimed at
Abramović's heart.
Close-up of Rest Energy

Together we held a taut bow and a poised arrow.
The weight of our bodies puts tension in the bow. The arrow pointed at Marina's heart.
Small microphones were attached to both our hearts. recording the increasing number of heartbeats.
Video piece of Ms. Abramović' performing Seven Easy Pieces: Entering the Other Side
Statement to the audience during the original live performance in 2005:

Please, just for the moment, all you, just listen.
I am here and now, and you are here and now with me.
There is no time.
View of gallery devoted mostly to photographs and ephemera.
The Hero, 1001
Glass display case containing memorabilia of the artist's father, Vojo Abramović
The Hero, 1001
Detail of photographs in display case
The Hero, Video (black and white, sound), 14.19 min.

My father died very disappointed by the political changes in the former Yugoslavia. Throughout his life, he never surrendered, making him a national hero. 'The Hero' is dedicated to him. I sat on a white horse, my hair and a white flag blowing in the wind. This image recalls another narrative from my life--the story of how my parents met. My father found my mother, wounded, and took her to the hospital on his white horse; later, my mother saved his life when she found him unconscious, among other wounded soldiers. The song heard from 'My Hero' is 'Hej Sloveni,' the Yugoslavian national anthem from the era of Tito, beautifully sung by Marica Gojević.
Detail: The Hero, 2001
Vojo Abramović's Military Medals
Detail: The Hero, 2001
A small pigskin leather bag once carried by the artist's father
Marina Abramović's boots that she has worn on her many nomadic wanderings, which include walking the Great Wall of China in 1988.
Carrying the Skeleton, 2008
Gift of Agnes Gund to The Museum of Modern Art
Every year on Marina's birthday, her mother would give her pajamas that were too big, pajamas that her mother told her daughter she "would grow into." It was this comment that inspired this piece.
Marina Abramović in Holding Milk from the Kitchen Series. This projection is so still that at first I thought it was a C-print. Detail from above. It is only by looking carefully that a visitor can discern slightly wavering milk
in the bowl.
The House with the Ocean View
These three rooms were previously on exhibit at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York. For twelve days, from November 15-26, 2002, Ms. Abramović inhabited these rooms in a Living Installation.
Everything the artist did was on public view. She slept seven hours a day, drank mineral water (no eating) and showered three times daily.
The third room. The artist slept seven hours a day, on a wooden bed in this room. Detail of one of the three ladders providing access to elevated performance spaces.
Video installation on opposite wall showing artist as she performed.

This performance comes from my desire to see if it's possible to use simple daily discipline, rules, and restrictions to purify myself.
Can I change my energy field?
Can this energy field change the energy field of the audience and the space?
Erica Papernik, a curatorial assistant who worked on this show. "I have a personal relationship with this table because I went out and bought all the objects myself."
Rhythm D
Instructions: There are 71 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired
Performance: I am the Object
During this Period I take full responsibility
Duration: 6 hours (8 PM - 2 Am)
1974, Studio Morra, Naples
Table details.
Details. That's a Polaroid camera on far left.
Detail: Table contents.
Detail: Table contents.
Detail: Table contents.
Erica Papernik and Cara Starke. Ms. Starke, an Assistant Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art, helped curate the William Kentridge show presently on exhibition at MoMA. Ms. Papernik and her mother, Honi Papernik.
Marina Abramović and Ulay
1978; Video (black and white, sound)
12.55 min.
Marina Abramović and Ulay
Breathing in/Breathing out.

1977; 16 mm film transferred to video (black and white, sound); 2.10 min.
Marina Abramović and Ulay
Conjunction, 1983
Wooden table coated in twenty-four-carat gold leaf, in eight parts Parts of Table: 3 9/16 x 79 15/16 x 57 7/8" (9 x 203 x 147 cm)
Musée d'Art Contemporain de Lyon
100 Letters, 1965-1979.
"Another Sunday afternoon, I am bored to hell."
Two books on sale in MoMA's gift shop. On the left is a biography of the artist; on the right is the exhibition catalogue, Marina Abramović : The Artist is Present. 224 pages. $50.00; $45.00 Members.

Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.