Persona February, 10th 2022 by

World Artists and their Story, 45 - Marina Abramovic


World Artists and their Story, 45 – Marina Abramovic
Marina Abramovic has put the Performance Art on the map. She performed physically and psychologically radical performances with Ulay in the mid-1970s. Ulay turned back to the Polaroids in the 1980s after their artistic and love affair ended, but Abramovic kept going. We remember Abramovic’s performance art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010.

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From March 14 to May 31, 2010, the Museum of Modern Art devoted a retrospective to Abramovic’s work entitled ‘Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present’. It was MoMA’s first retrospective devoted entirely to performance art and – with more than 850,000 visitors – one of the most successful exhibitions in the history of the museum.

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Looking in the eye
Abramovic performed a new performance. For this performance, which, like the exhibition, lasted about three months, Abramovic sat silently on a chair in the atrium of the museum during MoMA’s opening hours. Visitors could sit on a chair opposite Abramovic to silently look her straight in the eye. They could do this for as long as they wanted.

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On the first day of the performance, Ulay joined Abramovic. It resulted in an emotional moment, followed by applause. See the video.
Abramovic lived in Amsterdam for a long time. In 2003 there was an exhibition of her work as part of ’20 years of the World Wide Video festival’. The exhibition took place at the Netherlands Media Art Institute. I wrote the following about it in 2003:
A snake around your neck, devouring an onion and the mambo


A solo presentation of Marina Abramovic’s work was shown at the Netherlands Media Art Institute. Abramovic now belongs to the absolute top of the international art world. At the end of 2002, she simultaneously participated in three exhibitions in New York, including the Guggenheim and PS1.

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Abramovic is all about energy and the exchange of her energy with the audience. In her first years as an artist she is looking for the physical and mental limits of her body. In ‘Portrait Gallery’, sixteen performances are shown on sixteen monitors, in which she takes her head as the starting point.

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In the first performance, ‘Art must be Beautiful, Artist must be Beautiful’, she combs her hair until it bleeds, while proclaiming the title of the performance.
In ‘Dragon Heads’ her head is entwined by a strangler snake and in ‘Onion’ she devours a raw onion, complaining about all sorts of things, such as having to wait so long when she travels, her nose is too big and she always falls for the wrong man.

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At the Waterfall
In the late 1990s, her work changes. She is less concerned with herself and the agonizing and exhausting performances with Ulay, but also with the outside world. For example, she films 106 singing monks and nuns in a Tibetan monastery in South India and makes the installation ‘At the Waterfall’. Lying in an old-fashioned lounger made of wood and fabric, I let the song and the images wash over me – indeed, like a waterfall.

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In ‘Mambo’ the public participation is of a different order. In 2002 Abramovic gave a performance in an empty psychiatric institution in Italy. She danced the Mambo on a steel platform on shoes with magnets underneath. The performance lasted three hours, with the music repeated over and over.

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If the visitors wanted to see her, they also had to put on shoes with magnets and walk towards her on a steel plate at a distance of 100 meters. At the NIM in Amsterdam, the steel plate was replaced by a steel dance floor. The magnetic shoes were ready. It was hard to say goodbye to an infectiously dancing Abramovic in a flowy red dress. As usual, she was in a battle of attrition with herself.

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