On Sunday afternoon I walked between a naked man and woman in public, through a doorway actually. They stared at me as I tried to avoid her breasts and to not graze his genitals with my oversized handbag. I couldn’t make eye contact with them, though I felt their breath. No, this wasn’t a sex party, nor a strip club. This was the Museum of Modern Art here in New York City, folks. This nude couple was re-enacting “Imponderabilia,” a performance first staged by artist Marina Abramovic and Ulay, her partner, at an art gallery in 1977. This is one of five live performances — three nude ones — of Abramovic’s that is being staged as part of The Artist is Present exhibit, a 40-year survey of the work of the self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art.” Good timing, MoMA, since it’s National Women’s History Month …
Marina Abramovic was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and since the ’70s has put on performances that test the limits of the body and, as she’s said, “elevate the spirit of the audience.” She’s cut herself, burned herself, taken pills to induce a catatonic state, screamed for hours until the point of exhaustion, massaged her breasts continuously on video as part of an ancient rain-making ritual, starved herself and holed up in an art gallery for 12 days straight — you might remember that one from being re-enacted in a “Sex and The City” episode. She has even been interviewed by fellow performance artist James Franco, who is a big-time fan.
Even the most cynical art observer, who thinks performance art is for the birds, will be bowled over by this show. A sampling of those other live performances: one includes a couple that has braided their hair into each other; one has a nude woman sitting on a bicycle seat on a wall in a structure that mimics a crucifix; and another shows a naked woman/man (depending on which performer’s shift you get) with a skeleton draped over her/his body in an effort to confront “death.” Abramovic’s endurance is perhaps the most bewitching element at work here. For example: there are seven flat-screen video representations, among many others, to represent “Seven Easy Pieces,” which she performed at the Guggenheim in 2005; one of the “easy pieces” required her to masturbate for eight hours continuously while hiding under a circular stage which held visitors (this was a re-creation of a Vito Acconci performance in 1972). Wow.
If you live in the New York area, this show is a must-see spring event (it’s running through May 31). The artist herself is even appearing in what is the longest durational work ever to be mounted at a museum. During all of the museum’s open daytime hours, Abramovic is sitting at a table where visitors, one at a time, after waiting in line, can sit across from her and participate in a staring match for as long as they can stand it. Anyone can participate, even you. [Huffington Post, L.A. Times]