Marina Abramović – “The Artist is Present” (MoMA)

I went last Saturday to see the William Kentridge exhibit for class. It was great. I barely remember it, though. The Marina Abramović retrospective “The Artist is Present” invaded my consciousness and overtook it completely. I ended up spending way more time at the Abramović exhibit than at the Kentridge one. Abramović’s performances explore the spatial relationships between the performer and the audience by testing her own personal physical endurance and the connections between her body and mind – it’s inexplicably profound.

For the retrospective, MoMA is displaying some of her sculptures, videos of her original performance pieces – she was really big in the ’70s – and they’re featuring contemporary performers recreating some of her past work. Abramović herself is also performing there currently. She sits at a table in the middle of an open atrium, and one by one, viewers sit in front of her at the table and capture her gaze. By the end of the exhibition, it has been calculated that she will have sat and stared – performed – for over 716 hours.

In one of her previous performances, Abramović took this medication given to patients in a catatonic state while perfectly healthy. It sent her into convulsions, and for 15 minutes, she had no control over her body. In another, with her long-time collaborator Ulay, she held a bow while he held an arrow drawn taut, aimed directly at her heart. They stood with their feet close to the other’s and each leaned back, and the longer they stood there, the more rapidly their hearts would beat. That steadily increasing tension that existed both physically and abstractly between them, that total and complete trust, defined the performance.

It may not make sense, and it may sound really strange, but the whole experience is intensely moving. I wish I’d gotten to take part in her current performance, sitting at the table. Abramović forces the audience to consider her performance outside their realm of comfort, to consider their relationship to her, to consider the moment – she challenges the viewer as well as herself. I’ve never experienced anything, any art, remotely like this – I definitely think anyone with any interest in any kind of art should go. Everyone in general should go. I want to go back. The exhibit ends May 31.

(If you can’t go, at least check out the live feed of Abramović’s current performance during museum hours, and this NYT slideshow.)