June 5, 2010

The Artist Is Absent

It is like going to the war.” –Marina Abramović on performance art

UPDATE: Klausie (sort of) blew it (Animal via Art Fag City & Linda Yablonsky on the Givenchy gala for ArtForum: “the fashion mob was tweeting like mad”)

Marina, saintlike, abstracted, ensconced in a monochromatic robe (in one of three patriotic colorways) with the functional slouchiness of a Snuggie.

'ó'quentiño' by Irene Regueiro, Patricia Alambiaga Arnal, Lebymar Blanco Pérez, Elena Bàez & Nela Sanchez

'ó'quentiño' by Irene Regueiro, Patricia Alambiaga Arnal, Lebymar Blanco Pérez, Elena Bàez & Nela Sanchez

But her costume has nothing to do with allusion or somatic comfort; it’s closer to the Zen of a color field, aiming for the very same transcendence through an entirely different medium.

Seeing the other people you come to that state where you start to feel unconditional love for the total stranger. That is what happened to me. My entire heart opened to the level that was incredible. You see them and by being still they become eyes like the door of the soul, you really start knowing them on the most intimate level. That is why people avoid looking in the eyes, especially here in New York. I looked by now, 1,565 pair of eyes. This is enormous amount of eyes. It was so touching to see I knew the people so intimately but never spoke word with them.

–Marina Abramović, interview on WSJ‘s Speakeasy Blog, June 1 2010 (Highly recommended)

As Hrag Vartanian points out, MoMA itself stakes a claim to authorship in The Artist Is Present (after setting a precedent with the @ sign): the exhibition existed as much in the digital space as it did IRL, where a web cam evolved into a kind of meta-art, largely through social media metastasis. The microsite was an exhibit about an exhibit—an anti-Chatroulette, if you will—while the Flickr feed of Marco Anelli’s unmistakable portraits could easily make for a post-hoc catalog and future exhibit. (H.V.’s excellent recap on Hyperallergic has spared me the need to eulogize the exhibit.)


First of all, I am not ashamed to admit that I knew very little about Marina Abramović before my first visit to MoMA’s comprehensive survey or her life and work two and a half months ago. Since that fateful first exposure, I have grown quite sympathetic to her work, which I would describe with adjectives like “raw,” “visceral,” “somatic,” ad infinitum.

While it’s probably too much to expect that the actors would reperform any pieces from the Rhythm series, it’s definitely illuminating to see certain pieces in the flesh, so to speak (namely Imponderabilia, with its ephemeral interactivity, but others as well). At least, it is for those who are unfamiliar with Marina’s particular brand of performance art—including myself, the first time around—i.e. the vast majority of MoMA’s visitors.

Marina & Ulay, Reunited

Marina & Ulay, Reunited

Unfortunately, the pieces executed by Marina’s minions are, in many ways, a novelty: the more you know about the artist and her oeuvre, the less successful the reperformances become. I found that they were far less impactful the second, third, fourth, etc. times around; the sheen of originality quickly fades once you recognize that the anonymous faces are rotating between the five ‘live’ works on the sixth floor. By the third time I visited the exhibition, I was far more concerned with where Marina and Ulay went when they walked off the screen in [the video of] Relation in Space (in which they repeatedly walk into one another) than the four people in the 8-foot cube behind me (reperforming Relation in Time and Point of Contact), taped off to demarcate its artness, hermeneutically if not hermetically sealed.

(Similarly, I found it interesting to see where the performer in Skeleton chooses to fix their diffuse gaze: the women gratuitously inviting rain under their dresses; Marina fondling herself; the men dry-humping a lush if admantly unresponsive field; or Marina in homage: victorious, self-lionized, Napoleonic, eternal. It turns out that they’re too busy “[going] back and forth between… euphoric moments and then intensely sad feelings of heaviness.“)

When I first saw this on T Magazine, I thought it looked like a movie trailer… turns out, it is.

In other words, the work on the sixth floor relies on an element of unpredictability that constitutes the essence of performance art. I distinctly remember when my first encounter with Luminosity, shortly after the exhibit opened in March. The white light is strangely forgiving: she struck me as painted, photorealistic, timeless in the split-second before I realized that she was not just an image but a real person. If that naïve (in a good sense) suspension of disbelief cannot be underestimated, it is precisely because it will never happen again.

Of course, the inherent ‘unrepeatability’ of Abramović’s work only underscores the singular nature of performance art. Again, although some have questioned the authenticity of reperformance—to the effect that any attempt to do so somehow devalues the work itself and Marina’s legacy—I think there is something to be said for the sheer novelty of reperformance, where ignorance is bliss.


Date: May 23, 2009
To: K. Biesenbach
From: M. Abramović
RE: Retrospective at MoMA

I decided that I want to have a work that connects me more with the public, that concentrates … on the interaction between me and the audience.

I want to have a simple table, installed in the center of the atrium, with two chairs on the sides. I will sit on one chair and a square of light from the ceiling will separate me from the public.

Anyone will be free to sit on the other side of the table, on the second chair, staying as long as he/she wants, being fully and uniquely part of the Performance.

I think this work [will] draw a line of continuity in my career.


via Arthur Danto in NYT

Hence, the true power of Marina presented herself: that of an artwork unfolding in real time. It was neither a performance nor art by most definitions of either word—performance suggests action and art suggests meaning—but, insofar as the medium is the body itself, it was Performance Art, reduced to its essence: presence (not unlike Tehching Hsieh’s “Lifeworks,” which also bear MoMA’s stamp of approval).

A friend and I agreed to get to MoMA early in hopes of earning an audience with her inimitable highness Marina Abramovic on a Saturday morning two months ago. Unfortunately, there was already a substantial crowd—to the extent that they let people into the foyer (between the ticket check and stairs to the atrium) 20 minutes before opening—by 10 AM (when we had agreed to meet at MoMA), despite the gorgeous weather, semi-early arrival and the ‘magical’ tourist attraction up the block.

A rough chronicle of my experience after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »

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May 26, 2010

Assorted Links

UPDATED, one last time before midnight.

Os Gemeos & Blu (Works in Progress) in Lisbon

Os Gemeos & Blu (Works in Progress) in Lisbon

Street art’s symbiotic relationship with the Web makes you wonder whether the genre’s broad popularity stems from the fact that its characteristic features—swift execution, quicksilver response to pop culture and politics, the dominance of quotation and commentary, snarky attitude, fragmented statements embedded in the world rather than meant to stand apart from it—actually reflect the way that plugged-in people process information, more so than “traditional” art. There is something particularly contemporary about street art’s whole M.O., in this sense.

–Ben Davis, Is Street Art Over?, Slate, May 26 2010 (Highly recommended)

Fresh Stuff from Ron English in Queens

Fresh Stuff from Ron English in Queens

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Two perspectives on Marina:

She and MoMA have brought some magic back into art—the sort of magic that all of our courses in art history and appreciation had encouraged us to hope for.

–Arthur C. Danto, Sitting with Marina, The Stone blog on NYT, May 23 2010

There are euphoric moments and then intensely sad feelings of heaviness. Whatever you’re feeling becomes intensified. Certain truths about things I need to fix in my life are revealed to me. Marina says that in her own life she’s not so disciplined—that the performance gives her structure.

–Deborah Wing-Sproul, The Performer Made Bare, NYMag, May 23 2010

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[As Prokhorov] explained to “60 Minutes,” “I don’t use a computer. We have too much information and it’s really impossible to filter it.”

You know what? He’s not necessarily wrong. Do we REALLY need all this information? Like, right now—you’re reading this column and hopefully enjoying it, but ultimately, could you have survived the weekend if you missed it? I say yes. Just about everything online fits that mold—you have to sift through loads of bad writing and irrelevant information to find the occasional entertaining/funny/interesting thing, and even then, it’s not something that’s making or breaking your week. Ever been on a vacation and had little-to-no Internet access that week? You survived, right? Maybe the big Russian is on to something.

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Candy reminds us of the postmodern notion of self-creation—the way we don social signifiers with the same ease as clothing, constructing our selves bit by bit from cultural cues and images. Rather than the solid frameworks we cast them as, our selves are more like sweaters we put on and take off. When it comes to social identity, we’re all a wee bit in drag.

–Caroline Hagood, New Documentary Tries to Solve the Riddle of Andy Warhol’s Candy Darling,
The Huffington Post, May 21 2010

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The problem of negative externalities [refers to] costs that accrue when the self-interested actions of one person leave bystanders worse off. The biggest example of a negative externality is global warming: When we burn carbon-based fuels, we benefit ourselves while imposing a great cost on billions of other present and future inhabitants of the planet.

–Felix Salmon, The Man Who Could Unsnarl Manhattan Traffic, Wired, May 24 2010

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GOOD Picture Show has a gallery of J. Bennett Fitts' incredible photos of Middle America

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May 20, 2010


Like Images… but, you know, ending with “-ry” instead of “-s”


  • Andrew Kuo’s “My Wheel of Worry, May 2010″ (Tiny Vices via TWBE)





When we think of still lifes, we think of paintings that have a certain atmosphere or ambience. My still life paintings have none of those qualities, they just have pictures of certain things that are in a still life, like lemons and grapefruits and so forth. It’s not meant to have the usual still life meaning.

–Roy Lichtenstein.

Roy Lichtenstein
Still Lifes
555 W 24th St (at 11th)
New York NY 10011 [map]
212 / 741-1111
May 8, 2010 – July 30, 2010


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April 29, 2010

Images: Super Deluxx Edition

Henri Cartier-Bresson's portrait of Sartre is currently on view in his retrospective at MoMA

Henri Cartier-Bresson's portrait of Sartre is currently on view in his retrospective at MoMA

As with his entire body of work, Sartre’s theory of imagination refers to—and, naturally, affirms—his ontology, in which he explores Husserl’s tenet that “all consciousness is consciousness of something” in the context of the ‘detotalized totality’ of being-in-itself / being-for-itself dualism. Sartre postulates an admittedly underdeveloped notion of image consciousness in his early work The Imaginary (1940), though these writings are largely eclipsed by his later political [viz. Marxist] proclivities; nevertheless, his theory of imagination is a sufficient foundation of a phenomenological aesthetics.

Notably, Sartre implies that the imaginary (or ‘irreal’) has the same ontological import as the real: if the real is never beautiful, it is simply because beauty is, by definition, imaginary, where imagination is a permanent possibility of consciousness. A painting, photograph, film, song, performance, etc., necessarily transcends perception—i.e. consciousness of oil on canvas, ink on paper, a projection, an actor, etc.—as an object of image consciousness, which overflows with the meaning of the portrait (etc.): a particular arrangement of brushstrokes or sounds immediately presents itself to consciousness as an image or melody. The abstract, then, is that which escapes us in experience qua perception; colors transcend pigment to conjure mood or geometry.

Hence, Images (in no particular order):









































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March 30, 2010

Art vs Audience

Core77 recently posted a couple of videos by Mike Figgis for the Tate Liverpool, in which an ‘average’ audience—presumably a demographically accurate cross-section of locals—shares their opinions about a canonical work of modern art. The first group of schoolkids is rather skeptical towards a Dan Flavin, which has been installed in their classroom for a day, and they’re equally baffled by Jeff Koons’ “Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank.” (More Koons below.)

Conversely, an older group seems to grasp the significance of Duchamp’s Fountain, as displayed in a public restroom, while remaining largely indifferent to the object itself, readily abstracting the idea from its physical manifestation.

I’m undecided as to whether their candid opinions are more or less authoritative than those of art historians or critics.

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