Marina Abramovic: Performance Artist and Diva Extraordinaire

I was not able to attend this exciting and disturbing exhibit at the MOMA in New York City, which ended today after several months of publicity awash with scandal, mental and physical stimulation, protest, and worship.  Perhaps the most renown performance artist in the world today, Marina Abramovic is a woman of mystery, depth, and she leaves nothing undone…even if it means potentially causing her own death.  For years, I have followed Abramovic’s career after reading about her in various articles, however, for whatever reason, I couldn’t bring myself to walk into the museum where she sat in an exhibit called, “The Artist is Present.”  Since March, Abramovic has been present at the MOMA, sitting in a chair six days per week and for the entire period that the museum is open to the public, usually about seven hours per day.  To me, this not only exhibits the sheer magnitude of her presence, but also the determination and will-power this artist has to defy the odds.

Abramovic sits silent and motionless as continual admirers alternate in front of her

Abramovic’s art is meant to shock, is meant to disturb, and is meant to stretch the limits of what is socially acceptable.  She harms herself in the process as if possessing no fear of pain or death, and yet we are possessed to watch…to gaze, in fact.  Not only have thousands flocked to the MOMA to see her and the recreations of many of her other pieces, there has been a continual blog denoting the exhibit’s events and even video streaming.  Today, on the final day of the exhibit, those who wished to destroy her concentration went above and beyond the limits of a spectator, as the second link below explains.

The Artist is Present

The New York Times article interestingly calls the exhibit “A 700-hour silent opera,” and calls Abramovic “a Diva,” comparing her to one of the most beloved operatic artists, Maria Callas.  At first, I thought, “Hmmm, is that an appropriate comparison?”  Maybe it is.  Callas risked so much for her art and was extraordinary on stage, a true singing actress.  While in the past, Abramovic has performed endless disturbing sequences, even cutting a star into her stomach with a razor, here she simply sat and stared at the person sitting in front of her. It is a silent communication, and yet she has said more with her silence over two months than she might have with a thousand words.  Even if her voice is silent, her presence dominates.

Abramovic

A lovely woman, striking by her looks alone, I for one could not imagine sitting across from her.  I began to ponder the many artists who felt these same emotions toward other artists.  Mahler, who tried to avoid writing a 9th Symphony for fear of equating himself with Beethoven; Mascagni, who was fearful of meeting the great Verdi but eventually mustered the courage to do so; and, for me the most poignant was Verdi, who admired the great Alessandro Manzoni.  Spending many years in the same city, Milan, Verdi only met Manzoni at his wife Giuseppina’s insistence, and at that even the mention of Manzoni’s name brought Verdi to break into a cold sweat.

And what if it were Callas sitting in that chair, hypothetically speaking?  Would we simply go and sit in front of her?  The presence of an artist is powerful, but a silent meeting of the eyes and the mind forever solidifies a relationship that requires no further explanation.  It is the silence of recognition.

“700-Hour Silent Opera Reaches Finale at MOMA” from the New York Times

“Vomit, Nudity, Litter: Marina Abramovic’s Marathon Performance Ends in Chaos” from Gawker (Note to Reader:  This link contains graphic images and its content may be offensive to some).

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