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Marina Abramović at MoMA

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

ArtsJournal linked to this New York magazine item written by a performance artist who is performing one of the pieces in the Marina Abramović retrospective at MoMA. Here’s the first paragraph:


I am a performance artist myself, and it’s unusual for me to participate in someone else’s work. When I stumbled on MoMA’s casting call, I responded because I’d been steeped in Marina’s work for a long time. My own pieces are very slow-moving. I’m doing one now called Tidal Culture, where I film my own still sittings by the ocean, and make objects out of algae.


One’s response to this paragraph may be a good barometer of one’s attitude toward this sort of art generally. After I read it, I couldn’t stop giggling.


In general, I find the proposition of gawking at living, breathing bodies objectified into “works” already so sufficiently disturbing that I am able to persuade myself that I already get what the pieces are about without having to bother going to see them. That’s my loss, I suppose. I hope to go check it out, though, this week—lunch breaks permitting.


The piece that has drawn the most attention in the retrospective, not surprisingly, is one in which museum goers can wait in line to sit opposite of Abramović and take part in the performance of her piece - a very timely encapsulation of the pseudo-reciprocity of much interactive Web 2.0-style culture as well as, by many accounts, a potent demonstration of how affecting these sorts of participatory experiences can be despite (because of?) how contrived and asymmetrical they are. Standing in line, waiting for one’s moment in the chair, one must pass through a welter of superficiality and self-criticism. “How desperate am I for the spotlight?” one must wonder. But the transcendence of the microfame one experiences in the chair, the unflinching and largely undeserved attention, seems to justify all the patient waiting. The structure of the piece builds a powerful machine for simulating focused attention, which turns out to be just as powerful as the kind of reciprocity that involves more than staring. As we’ve learned from the rise of social media, the presence of a spotlight is all that we need to feel the pleasures of notoriety and self-display, or to have the layers of our personality unveiled to ourselves. (See what I mean? I have already decided what the work is about without having seen it, which makes it hard for me to go and actually see it clearly. I wish I would have stumbled on it by accident.)


Arthur Danto describes the genesis of the piece in this NYT essay, but Carles of Hipster Runoff has perhaps the most illuminating take.

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