The Presence of the Artist

April 26, 2010


From kottke.org:

At the behest of MoMA, photographer Marco Anelli has been taking photographs of all the people participating in Marina Abramović’s performance in the main atrium of the museum and posting them to Flickr. To review:

Abramović is seated in [the atrium] for the duration of the exhibition, performing her new work The Artist Is Present for seven hours, five days a week, and ten hours on Fridays. Visitors are invited to sit silently with the artist for a duration of their choosing.

The photographs are mesmerizing… face after face of intense concentration. A few of the participants even appear to be crying (this person and this one too) and several show up multiple times (the fellow pictured above sat across from Abramović at least half-a-dozen times). The photos are annotated with the duration of each seating. Most stay only a few minutes but this woman sat there for six and a half hours. This woman sat almost as long as was also dressed as the artist.

On the night of the opening exhibition, the third person to sit across from Abramović was her ex-boyfriend and collaborator of many years, Ulay (pictured here on Flickr). James Wescott reports on the scene:

When she looked up again, sitting opposite her was none other than Ulay. A rapturous silence descended on the atrium. Abramović immediately dissolved into tears, and for the first few seconds had trouble meeting Ulay’s calm gaze. She turned from superhero to little girl — smiling meekly; painfully vulnerable. When they did finally lock eyes, tears streaked down Abramović’s cheeks; after a few minutes, she violated the conditions of her own performance and reached across the table to take his hands. It was a moving reconciliation scene — as Abramović, of course, was well aware.


Here’s a description of one of the projects they did together in the 70s:

To create this “Death self,” the two performers devised a piece in which they connected their mouths and took in each other’s exhaled breaths until they had used up all of the available oxygen. Seventeen minutes after the beginning of the performance they both fell to the floor unconscious, their lungs having filled with carbon dioxide. This personal piece explored the idea of an individual’s ability to absorb the life of another person, exchanging and destroying it.

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