Marina Abramović at MoMA

Slate's Culture Blog
March 24 2010 3:58 PM

Marina Abramović at MoMA

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, at MoMA through May 31, is a retrospective featuring photographs, videos, multimedia installations, and performance pieces by the Serbian artist, some of them created in collaboration with Ulay, formerly her partner in two senses. Abramovic only knows one big thingfaut souffrir pour être bellebut she knows it well. Her best pieces provoke tense meditations on masochism and the will to power and thrill with voluptuous danger. It helps that she has a talent for shooting muscular photographs, a knack for ripping off Joseph Beuys in an interesting way, anduseful to her sort of body artboth an Olympian figure and a profile like a bird of prey. Less than 25 percent of her work is bullshita remarkable rate of nonfailure for a contemporary conceptual artist. She easily sinks more shots than Bill Viola.

Much of the discussion around the exhibitor at least much of the nattering about itconcerns reperformances of Abramovic's works involving nudity, sometimes also known as nekkidness. (I don't think that the links I provide here lead to anything unsafe to watch at work, the pieces being no more pornographic than "Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2)," but maybe your cubicle neighbor is a Philistine, in which case I extend my condolences.) In "Luminosity," one of Abramovic's female models/collaborators hangs on a wall in a room by her lonesome, mounted by way of bicycle seat. Arms extended, face impassive, she forces the viewer to squirm through some fresh thoughts and charged feelings about concentration and consideration. Elsewhere, "Imponderabilia" invites patrons to squeeze between two nude humans facing each other at a distance of, oh, about a foot and a half, nipple to nipple. As a comment on thresholds, "Imponderabilia" is above average; in context, it seems worthwhile just for an amusing curator's note on the wall: "Current requirements necessitate more distance between the performers than in the original 1977 performance."


But amusement is somewhat scarce in The Artist Is Present, especially down in the museum's second-floor atrium, where Abramovic, fully clothed, is reviving a participatory number titled "Night Sea Crossing." This one involves her wearing an invariably dour expression while sitting very still at a table. Signage invites museumgoers to sit across from her in order to exchange vibes and create a space "where nothingor possibly everythinghappens." As highbrow endurance tests go, it is intriguingbut also ridiculously solemn.

Thus, I intend this blog post to incite a riot of fun. Given the tradition that Abramovic is working inthat of Dada jokers and wise Fluxus foolsit seems totally legit to grin at the artist/models and even to be silly for them in a Buckingham Palace way or at the very least to say pardon me or hey, how's it going when passing between the "Imponderablia" people. Further, since "Night Sea Crossing" streams online, MoMA patrons ought to be seating themselves at the edge of the performance space proper and making funny faces in a photo-bomb fashion and holding up "John 3:16" signs and such. What? You're worried that the guards are going to scold you? If you buy into Abramovic's ideas about "the transmission of pure energy," then it would be intellectually consistent to make funny faces at them, too. Is there not more to beauty than somber contemplation? Can we get some sweetness and light up in this piece? Forget about "what is art?" The question is, "Why so serious?"

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.