We’ll just say it: Marina Abramovic was always something of an art (history) school crush for us, even if – or actually, because – she made us uncomfortable with simple tasks like brushing our hair. This admiration was goaded by her thoughtful “comeback,” 2005’s Seven Easy Pieces. The work used the strange spaces of the Guggenheim to revisit the canon of performance (a genre which, at that point, was widely considered incompatible with a museum’s raison d’être.) So yes, in 2009, we gamely put on our lab coats in Manchester and stared deeply into the eyes of Pavel Büchler (well, technically with whomever happened to sit next to you, but we got lucky.) In the following year, the MOMA’s The Artist is Present would reinvigorate a museum public – and a career (after all, to the better part of New York, pre-2010, she was just that sideplot in a Sex and the City episode. Actually, rewatching this, how much do we love Carrie’s comment that there are depressed women all over New York doing the same thing, but not calling it art?)
While there was a moment for Abramovic to digest all the frenzy she had whipped up, this moment was instead spent with The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, a confusing collaboration of the artist with Willem Dafoe, Robert Wilson and Antony, of Antony and the Johnsons, which marked the artist’s return to the Manchester International Festival. It was difficult to tell how all this concentration and dedication to one’s own mythology was to be read – especially in an era that prefers jagged-edged irony to Abramovic’s brand of Deep-Souled sincerity.
By 2012, we were more than a little wary, even as we heard the raves about the critically-acclaimed The Artist is Present, Abramovic’s bio-pic, which can be found at the tellingly-titled address: www.marinafilm.com. The site describes the artist as “A GLAMOROUS ART-WORLD ICON, A LIGHTNING ROD FOR CONTROVERSY, AND A MYTH OF HER OWN MAKING,” seemingly owning the growing accusations over where the Art ends and the Ego begins. But wasn’t that always her question?
It’s getting harder to tell. The artist went from being present, to being ubiquitous. She is already enough of a cultural buzzword that The Daily Beast can declare that “Kim Kardashian is Now the Spitting Image of Marina Abramovic” and get not only laughs, but also a few thousand forwards. This July, when Jay Z brought his Picasso Baby act to Pace Gallery, the crowd reserved their best fan-antics for Abramovic, who descended, dutifully witch-like into the space. (Read Sarah Nicole Prickett‘s account at Artforum, which includes David Velasco‘s pretty magical photo of when Marina met Jay.)
So naturally, we were skeptical when we heard plans for the founding of the Marina Abramovic Institute up on the Hudson. It seemed implausible, and maybe even more so, anachronistic. After all, if Marina has always been about imploding the limits of art – as she claims repeatedly in the documentary – then why train an army to follow in her footsteps? And the announcement that she was turning to Kickstarter to fund it, well, it just left us feeling a little embarrassed. After all, $1 for a hug – excuse us, The Embrace – already raises its own issues, but then the $25 Water Drinking Exercise? Or the $1000 Skype-session “Mutual Gaze”? (We have to say, the $5 “Digital MAI” thing has peeked our curiosity. We mean, there has to be some understanding of irony here, right?)
But then we got to her mission statement:
Yes, there’s some hyperbole, but there’s also something truly a little beautiful in the idea. Granted, the mysterious Future Institution recalls any number of sci-fi novels (for some reason, we can’t seem to shake that Ethan Hawke/Uma Thurman movie,) as a kind of laboratory for thinking about How Life Could Be. (Though we get a little uneasy when “the enormous need of the public to be part of the Total Experience” is translated into a Kickstarter campaign.)
Still, the place and application of performance is changing, and why shouldn’t it change? Why shouldn’t there be institutions of this nature? Why should we wait for performance to affect change within the existing museums, when it could spawn its own, more flexible model?
These are potentially meaningful questions and they deserve room for debate. That room, however, got occupied rather quickly when Abramovic supplemented her Kickstarter page with a video of Lady Gaga performing “The Abramovic Method.” The method apparently subscribes to that unfortunate belief that for performance art to be “serious,” one must be naked. And so it was. Word of Lady Gaga buck naked in an “art” video exploded across the internet, garnering a massive audience for the effort, but also putting a bit of a damper on those questions about what this institution could be. Honestly, having watched the 2 minute video of the pop singer demonstrating some of the method techniques, we have to confess this really just looks like the worst summer camp ever.
Anyway, we offer it for your consideration.