I was in New York on March 27th to participate in The Conversation at Columbia University. In a recent blog post about the event, Rania wrote, “the paradox” ” though the topic was digital, the excitement came from face-to-face, real-world, real-time, high-touch experience of bodies in a room.” That turned out to be theme of my weekend in a very interesting way.
On Sunday, before returning to Boston, I went to MoMA to see “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present,” a retrospective of four decades of her performance art presenting a fascinating mix of documentary films, objects on display, interviews with the artist running in a four-hour loop, live re-staged performances of some of her works including “Nude with Skeleton,” “Luminosity,” and “Imponderabilia,” and the centerpiece of the exhibition, “The Artist is Present.” In the vast MoMA atrium, we find Abramovic live and in person dressed in a minimalist flowing blue gown. Visitors can sit across from her at a table and lock gazes with her in silence, surrounded by museum goers, bathed in intense white light coming from four directions (provided by eight 1,200 Watt HMI lighting instruments blasting through four large silks placed in the corners of the space, the lighting geek in me could not help but notice how the performance was lit).
It’s quite a challenge to document and/or preserve performance art, which is such an ephemeral medium, and the live re-creations in a museum setting not only offers us a glimpse of her work, but also offers a meditation on the role of live performance in our completely media-saturated culture, elevating this exhibition way beyond what a documentary film or the run-of-the mill documentation-oriented show can accomplish. I think there is a real hunger for liveness in our culture, a response to the overly commercialized mass media experience, with so many of our interactions mediated, even when they are personal. One of the pieces is four hours of interviews with Abramovic and it was quite fascinating to take a break from the tumultuous exhibition, put in the headphones, and listen to her words for a while.
You can’t really document performance art, but in terms of degrees, “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present” comes about as close as one can expect and is a show worth spending lots of time walking through, perhaps even a second time (as I did after listening to her interviews for a while). I’ve become interested in the challenge of documenting the ephemeral, and to see how her work was documented in a museum context both live and mediated was fascinating to me. If you live anywhere near New York, you should make the trek to this exhibition and allow yourself plenty of time to take it all in.
- Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, MoMA exhibition page, show runs March 14th trough May 31, 2010
- “Performance Art Preserved, in the Flesh,” exhibition review by Holland Cotter, New York Times, March 11, 2010
- “Who’s Afraid of Marina?” by Randy Kennedy, New York Times, March 19, 2010
- “The Anxiety of Influence,” by Tatiana Berg, BOMB Blog, March 29, 2010
- “Fragments from The Conversation 2010 (March 27, New York),” previous blog post