innovator in her field, Marina Abramović made the seemingly ephemeral performance
art collectible. The limited edition
photographic prints of her performances would play a role in her 2010 trailblazing
career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. While it also featured re-stagings of her
famous work by a troupe of young collaborators, the cornerstone of the exhibit
was a brand new Abramović performance conceived specifically for the show. Deceptively simple, it would prove one her most
physically and emotionally grueling undertakings. Matthew Akers follows her preparations and
736 hours of on-site performance in the HBO documentary Marina Abramović: the Artist is Present (trailer here), which opens theatrically
this Wednesday in New York at Film Forum.
concept is pretty simple. There are two
chairs. Abramović sits in one and the
public queues up to sit in the other.
For a while there was a table between them, but Abramović removed during
the performance. There is no talking,
just eye contact. However, many
participants find great significance in their real or perceived unspoken
March 14th to May 31st, as long as the museum was open to
the public, Abramović was in her chair.
Though her prior work is rather notorious for its extreme
transgressiveness (often featuring nudity and self-inflicted physical pain),
the need to be constantly “on” throughout The
Artist is Present pushed her to her limits.
After all, these are New Yorkers she was facing, at least for the most
part. Any questionable character could
walk in, including even James Franco, who shockingly comes across like a
shallow, self-absorbed twit during his brief sit with Abramović.
nothing else, Present the documentary
will give viewers a deep appreciate for the professionalism of the MoMA’s
security personnel. They are quite impressive
sweeping down on the inevitable freaks crossing the line. However, the film makes a crucial
miscalculation, assuming Abramović’s performances are so self-evidently “art,”
they require no case to be made on their behalf. Yet, the film could rather use such a
manifesto moment. It is clear Abramović’s
performance becomes a cultural phenomenon, but that does not necessarily make
more cultural-historical context would help aesthetically conservative viewers
come to terms with Abramović and her performances. The daughter of an overbearing military
martinet of a mother, recognized as a hero of Communist Yugoslavia, Abramović
herself acknowledges the influence of her excessively disciplined early years
on her outré art. However, the
subversive use of Communist and Russian imagery in her early performances is
never explored in depth. Neither does
Akers ever push for her perspective on the early 1990’s Bosnian War as an
expatriate Serbian, even though it is an issue that will surely cross the mind
of most viewers.
An accomplished cinematographer, director-dp Akers
films Abramović with sensitivity bordering on reverence. Frankly, he might have become too close to
his subject. While the overwrought
emotional responses of many sitters may have seemed appropriate to those
sharing the moment, it looks more than a little bizarre on screen. The resulting film is often fascinating, but
it rather feels like reality television for the elite of the gallery world. Recommended for partisans of the avant-garde,
Marina Abramović: the Artist is Present opens
this Wednesday (6/13) at Film Forum, ahead of its HBO broadcast on July 2nd.
Labels: Documentary, Marina Abramovic, MoMA