Yesterday, I was delighted to discover that after waiting with bated breath, Marina Abramovic exhibit The Artist Is Present was open for member preview. I took the journey uptown giddy with excitement at what I was to discover/experience. I have been a fan of Marina’s work for several years, and regret not being to see Seven Easy Pieces at the Guggenheim years ago (even though I’ve since watched them on DVD). I hustled towards the elevator to the 5th floor, then escalator to 6. Luckily the members present to view the exhibit were in small groups and many shuffled independently such as myself.
Upon entering the first room I immediately knew I was in for a treat. One wall features three pieces, all with audio, being played simultaneously. Another large screen hangs centrally from the ceiling. The videos have a phantasmagorical quality and are both scratchy and weathered with time, a fading memory that’s arrived back from the dead. I encircled the room twice, reading all of the descriptions next to each piece. Amongst the video documentation of the performative gesture, bodies are also featured within the space and actors re-perform works by Marina and her longtime collaborator Ulay. The bodies are somewhat disconcerting and lovely as a splash of flesh amongst all the black, white and gray. Individual pairs stand in silence with fixed gaze. They rotate throughout the space throughout the day and like the artist, will be present for what equals 700 hours of exhibition time.
As I walked through each room, I was filled with emotion. I forgot how the pieces affect me and I found myself almost moved to unexplainable tears more than once. The physicality of the work is so engaging, disturbing and aesthetically pleasing all at once. For those like myself who are empathetic, one can’t help but imagine/remember the pain of Ulay sewing his mouth closed or Marina slamming a human skull into her abdomen over and over again (some of the work in the back room I have come across previously, most at the Sean Kelly Gallery in Chelsea). Yet, why the performances are so effective is because they are humanistic and we can, if we choose to pay attention to the fine detail, even for a brief moment, become the artist. In the piece above a woman sits mid-air aloft a suspended bicycle seat her feet planted on two small platforms. The result is somewhat like a crucifixion reworked. In the original performance Marina sat on the bicycle seat without foot rests and as with many of the works tests the endurance of the self in a time based manner.
After viewing each room within the gallery, and taking part in a piece open to the public whereas individuals are invited to lay on a copper bench and rest his or her head on a limestone pillow transferring energy from the stone to the body, I went to the 2nd floor. Here, The Artist Is Present literally takes form, as Marina sits at a table inviting members of the public to sit with her.
The dynamic is bizarre as Marina makes herself somewhat sculptural, only shifting occasionally and not speaking. When I arrived she had already been sitting unmoving since 10:30 and the effect was evident in her drooping eyes and waxy complexion. A few people had gathered and stood patiently waiting for a chance to sit in the straight back wooden chair. Time is both of the essence and immeasurable as each participant can join the artist for as long or little time as they want. I sat, kneeling on the floor taking in the scene and those who either sat or walked around the atrium like myself, with eyes fixed centrally at the two seated figures. I took a small break after 45 minutes and went to view William Kentridge but felt odd leaving (maybe empathy or my own voyeuristic curiosity) Marina sitting sleepy eyed in the other gallery.
Upon returning, the participant had changed and as announcements rang loud in multiple languages that the museum would be closing I felt an overwhelming urge to stay until they forced us to leave. It was then that something unexpected happened. The young, attractive blond girl sitting with Marina had started to cry. Tears streamed down her face rapidly as she met the gaze of the drained and tired artist. I felt a gift of presence and as the lights started to go off, and the young girl got up self consciously wiping her cheeks, Marina was left alone. Her body, now 65 years old, heaved and slanted. I watched as guards told us to leave as she herself sobbed. Was it exhaustion? Hunger? Sense of completion? Either way, it felt lonely. All relevant to the physicality of the past, this new work finds the Artist, present and for all that its worth, in an amalgamation of time and space maybe being present is all that matters.
Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present will be on view from March 14th-May 31st @ The Museum of Modern Art.
— Posted from my iPhone