One of the great art experiences I’ve taken part in (the audience was part of the performance) was in March 2010 in the atrium at MoMA New York when Marina Abramović performed The Artist is Present. It was Marina’s self-portrait to sit at length on a chair opposite one member of the public also seated on a chair and maintain eye contact. Of the performance art experience, Abramović said the show changed her life “completely – every possible element, every physical emotion.”
The exhibition continued upstairs at MoMA and included a retrospective on her life, and incorporated a live performance art curated piece with two naked artists standing closely facing each other, whose bodies you, the viewer, needed to squeeze past, in order to get into the next room. You could also choose not to do it – but even the choice or the decision and the process of that going through your mind – was (to my mind) part of the performance.
The audience was part of the performance in The Artist is Present and they were also part of it as they squeezed through a gap between two naked people. My favourite work of Abramovic’s is The Lovers, The Great Wall Walk, in which she and her husband walked the Great Wall of China over 90 days to meet in the middle and say goodbye forever.
Wikipedia, below, provides the detailed summary of The Artist is Present. Lazily, a cut and paste, I acknowledge, has been done.
From March 14 to May 31, 2010, the Museum of Modern Art held a major retrospective and performance recreation of Abramović’s work, the biggest exhibition of performance art in MoMA’s history. During the run of the exhibition, Abramović performed The Artist Is Present, a 736-hour and 30-minute static, silent piece, in which she sat immobile in the museum’s atrium while spectators were invited to take turns sitting opposite her. Ulay made a surprise appearance at the opening night of the show.
Abramovic sat in a rectangle drawn with tape in the floor of the second floor atrium of the MoMA; theater lights shone on her sitting in a chair and a chair opposite her. Visitors waiting in line were invited to sit individually across from the artist while she maintained eye contact with them. Visitors began crowding the atrium within days of the show opening, some gathering before the exhibit opened each morning to rush for a more preferable place in the line to sit with Abramovic. Most visitors sat with the artist for five minutes or less and the line attracted no attention from museum security except for the last day of the exhibition when a visitor vomited in line and another began to disrobe. Tensions among visitors in line could have arisen from an understanding that for every minute each person in line spent with Abramovic, there would be that many fewer minutes in the day for those further back in line to spend with the artist. Due to the strenuous nature of sitting for hours at a time, art-enthusiasts have speculated as to whether Abramovic wore an adult diaper to eliminate the need to move to urinate. Others have highlighted the movements she made in between sitters as a focus of analysis, as the only variations in the artist between sitters were when she would cry if a sitter cried and her moment of physical contact with Ulay, one of the earliest visitors to the exhibition. Abramovic sat across from 1,545 sitters, including James Franco, Lou Reed and Bjork; sitters were asked not to touch or speak to the artist. By the end of the exhibit, hundreds of visitors were lining up outside the museum overnight to secure a spot in line the next morning. Abramovic concluded the performance by slipping from the chair where she was seated and rising to a cheering crowd more than ten people deep.