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 Marina Abramovic: The Artist IS the Innovation

By Shlomo Maital


 “Imponderabilia” *

   Innovators in business can learn a lot from artists; after all, they live and die by their creativity.  In  March 2010, the New York Times reported,  “with the opening on Sunday of “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present,” a long-building energy wave of performance art hits the Museum of Modern Art full force.”  She was the subject of a CBS Sixty Minutes profile. (*The photo shows “Imponderabilia” – viewers must pass between the two naked bodies). 

     What can we learn from the performance art of Marina Abramovic?

     Marina is in her 60’s.  She’s been doing ‘performance art’ for forty years, always billed as ‘alternative art’, meaning ‘weird, not serious’.  And she’s tired of that name.  Performance art is “a performance presented to an audience, traditionally interdisciplinary. Performance may be either scripted or unscripted, random or carefully orchestrated; spontaneous or otherwise carefully planned with or without audience participation. The performance can be live or via media; the performer can be present or absent and involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer’s body, or presence in a medium, and a relationship between performer and audience.”

    Here are some of Marina’s innovations:


  • For “Rhythm 0”   she placed 72 objects — including a candle, a rose, a scalpel, some pins and a gun — on a table and invited audience members to apply them to her body in whatever way they wanted as she stood, unresisting, for six hours.
  • For a 1973 piece called “Rhythm 10,” she turned on a tape recorder, splayed out her hand on the gallery floor, then quickly and repeatedly stabbed at the spaces between her fingers with one of ten knives, changing knives each time she cut herself.
  • Marina and the German artist Frank Uwe Laysiepen  faced each other and together held a large bow and arrow. Ms. Abramovic grasped the bow while Mr. Laysiepen pulled the string taut, aiming the arrow at her heart.
  • The meditative “Nightsea Crossing,” involved both preparation and repetition. Conceived to be performed 90 times, it consisted of them sitting at either end of a plain wooden table staring into each other’s eyes for hours, until physical discomfort or exhaustion forced them to stop.
  • The stage for their final performance, in 1988, was the Great Wall of China. Starting from opposite ends of the wall, they walked toward each other for three months. Originally the meeting was to have been the occasion for their marriage; in the event it marked their break-up.  Uwe fell in love with his Chinese translator and by the time he met up with Marina, the translator was pregnant.
  • In the much-noticed “House With An Ocean View” (2002) she lived in Sean Kelly Gallery in Chelsea for 12 days, confined to three containerlike rooms — together they suggested a triptych altarpiece — elevated above the floor, with the front wall open, allowing visitors to watch her ritualistically nap, shower, dress, drink water and urinate, then do the same all over again.


So – is this art?   Of course.  It is interesting, provocative, radically innovative and arouses deep passion, ranging from disgust, scorn, ridicule to admiration.   The fact that the venerable old lady MOMA has mounted an exhibition for Marina proves that performance art is now legitimate. 

 * Source: Art Review | ‘Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present’ Performance Art Preserved, in the Flesh, By HOLLAND COTTER, New York Times, March 12, 2010   


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
May 2012
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