The artist is present.
April 22, 2010 10:09 AM   Subscribe

As part of the current retrospective of her work at MoMA, Marina Abramović is performing "The Artist is Present," in which she sits in a chair at a table for the duration of the museum's opening hours and invites visitors to sit across from her for as long as they wish. Watch the performance live. Photographer Marco Anelli has been taking photos of the participants for the museum, noting the duration of their participation: 5 min., 10 min., 391 min. [via kottke] posted by ocherdraco (53 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
This is so derivative of Vito Acconci, it's not even funny.
posted by oraknabo at 10:13 AM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stare-off with the artist? That's kinda awkward, why not have a conversation?
posted by ghharr at 10:19 AM on April 22, 2010

I don't get why a not insignificant number of the watcher are photographed crying.
posted by anastasiav at 10:23 AM on April 22, 2010

The New Yorker on Abramovic and her retrospective (link goes to abstract).
posted by grobstein at 10:28 AM on April 22, 2010

I am not sure that one can ever get to a 100% verifiable "this artist did it first" (refering to Annconci), but Joseph Beuys, sometime in the mid-70s was himself an installation piece in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, where he was the support for a glass coffee table. Those who saw it say that Beuys never broke character, even to the point of trying to refuse to leave at night when the museum closed. He was sometimes swathed in felt, other times naked--or wearing very minimal covering. I mention this exhibit rather than "How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare" (1965) or "I Like America and America Likes Me" (1974), because there was no animal for Beuys to interact with, only the museum patrons who were confronted with a "ready made" provided courtesy of the artist.
posted by beelzbubba at 10:31 AM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Neat! Nice post!

The exhibition has been in the news, for other reasons, too: museum visitors seem to be having trouble keeping their hands to themselves., and one male model's erection led to his ejection.
posted by zarq at 10:33 AM on April 22, 2010

one male model's erection led to his ejection.

I read this the wrong way.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:37 AM on April 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

one male model's erection led to his ejection.

In one of my drawing classes we had a male model and a physiotherapist with a pack of Crayola washable markers for a lesson in anatomy: The physio used different colors to outline various muscle groups (e.g., the deltoid) and then had the model move to demonstrate how the muscle contracted and bulged in various ways (e.g., lifting his arm caused the deltoid to get shorter and wider, and this was easily visible with purple outline and contour lines).

Very useful demonstration, except that for the entire three hours, the model had a full erection, and a slow dribble of semen; occasionally he'd make a furtive gesture to wipe it away. Bizarrely, we all sat there for all three hours, pretending this wasn't happening. On break, we made jokes about the leaky model, and then returned.

In retrospect I think that it was the peculiar atmosphere of art school: This is art, and this the body, and everything it does (and that comes out of it) is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. So we spent three hours watching a man ejaculate.

Fortunately that model wasn't invited back.
posted by fatbird at 10:42 AM on April 22, 2010 [18 favorites]

I don't get why a not insignificant number of the watcher are photographed crying.

Besides the emotional possibility, keeping your eyes open and fixed on something can result in dry eyes and tears. Yes I learned this from playing Guitar Hero.
posted by starman at 10:48 AM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

So we spent three hours watching a man ejaculate.

The Gush??
posted by robself at 10:49 AM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't get why a not insignificant number of the watcher are photographed crying.

I'm not sure if you mean you don't understand why the participants cry or why the photographer took pictures of them crying, but according to this New York Times article with first-hand accounts of people who have done it, the experience can be intense.
posted by ekroh at 10:50 AM on April 22, 2010

In my hometown there was a guy that did this down at the local diner. I had no idea he was an artist.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:59 AM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lou Reed?!
posted by putzface_dickman at 11:03 AM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't get why a not insignificant number of the watcher are photographed crying.

I'm not sure if you mean you don't understand why the participants cry or why the photographer took pictures of them crying,

I mean I don't understand why they cry. If I saw one, I'd just consider it some kind of weird one-off thing, but there are a number of them. I'm curious why the simple act of sitting silently at the table with the artist evokes such an emotional response.
posted by anastasiav at 11:11 AM on April 22, 2010

The crying comes from a number of things. First, the person crying may be a longtime fan of Marina's work, so to be a participant in one of her pieces is truly moving. Second, I have a feeling that many of the people who sit with her have never been in such a scrutinized situation before: there are four huge lighting rigs at the corners of a large square which separates the public from the table and chairs. Once you are seated, hundreds of people are staring directly at you staring directly at Marina. The power of that is something you could only experience while sitting there, so for some people the mixture of feelings must be overwhelming. Never mind the fact that some of the people may already have some issues they are working through, and the experience could then be therapeutic. Marina is obviously not super comfortable for this piece and I think some participants may see that in her eyes, provoking an emotional response. I've yet to sit with her but I'm looking forward to it. The exhibition upstairs of her past work is incredible and I would urge any snarkies to see it for themselves and THEN form your opinion.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:12 AM on April 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

So being naked at the Moma is ok, but naked with an erection isn't?

Isn't some of Jeff Koon's work more explicit than this?
posted by garlic at 11:15 AM on April 22, 2010

Here's a story about Anya Liftig, another performance artist, who showed up dressed the same as Marina Abramovic and sat across from her for an entire day. There's a neat interview at the end.
T: How did the day end. Do the guards ask you to leave? Did Abramovic do anything or acknowledge you in any way?

A: The museum closed and a guard whispered in my ear that I would have to leave. Several guards came up to me and said congratulations. Marina gave me a slight smile.
posted by bewilderbeast at 11:22 AM on April 22, 2010 [7 favorites]

I know it's crass to ask...but how much money does she make doing this? I'm just curious.
posted by anniecat at 11:25 AM on April 22, 2010

It totally is! Cool!
posted by ocherdraco at 11:47 AM on April 22, 2010

Sitting with her may provoke a trance-like state, a meditation, that could lead to the tears. And the people coming to sit again and again, they have a silent relationship of sorts with her - it may indeed be therapeutic. The flickr set, and the Anya Liftig story bewilderbeast shared, are like art ripples her exhibit created.
posted by rainbaby at 11:48 AM on April 22, 2010

Art is weird.
posted by oddman at 11:48 AM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is pretty fascinating. I'm amazed at the repeat visitors featured in the more inside up above. I think the "male" just sat again. I wonder if anyone else in the line knows the repeaters and mutters "Christ, what an asshole" to themselves when he makes it up. Though, to be fair, it looks like they're typically only in for 20 minutes or so, after his initial marathon run.

I'm also curious what she's getting paid for this, or if she's just going to sell the portraits, or what. I don't think it's crass to ask: art has value and I'm curious how she values her time, considering how much of it she's spending sitting basically perfectly still, without a word.
posted by disillusioned at 11:50 AM on April 22, 2010

One more: Day 18, Portrait 10 looks a lot like Sharon Stone.
posted by The Mouthchew at 11:51 AM on April 22, 2010

And, to go with bewilderbeast's comment, here is Anya Liftig: Day 17, Portrait 2, 386 min.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:54 AM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you're right Mouthchew (some Sharon Stone photos for reference: 1, 2, 3).
posted by ocherdraco at 12:03 PM on April 22, 2010

Another reason for me to visit New York again...
posted by Theta States at 12:12 PM on April 22, 2010

Rufus Wainwright? We could do this all day. Can you find Baldessari? Kate Valk?

This guy's got a wicked crush

This is great and I really wish I would be there. To be in the room and see the interaction between viewer and artist would be many times better than any of the representations - though they have a pretty big appeal on their own.

posted by From Bklyn at 12:24 PM on April 22, 2010

I went one day with some friends to see the William Kentridge exhibit (which is way awesome, btw) and we spent a long time watching this, mostly just waiting to see what would kind of ritual would happen during the when this girl gave up her spot. While we waited some joker walked across the taped line on the floor that demarcates the beginning of the art, slapped a note of some kind on the table, and walked away. There was a something of a murmur from the people watching and the security guard at the entrance to the piece did a flabbergasted double-take and immediately got on his walkie-talkie, but the two woman didn't flinch or acknowledge the interloper at all. He didn't even register to them, as far as I could tell.

We didn't stick around to see her get up, but we finished looking at the Kentridge stuff in time to see this guy take his seat. When there was no one opposite her, she sort of "powered down." Her shoulders relax and her head bows until the new participant is seated. After he sat down she raised her head and locked her strange sad stare at him.

It's hard to see what the big deal is without witnessing it firsthand, and while I don't particularly like the piece, there is certainly more to it than just a woman sitting in a chair doing nothing.
posted by clockwork at 1:05 PM on April 22, 2010

Yep, From Bklyn, definitely Rufus Wainwright.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:18 PM on April 22, 2010

From bewilderbeast's link:

A: Yes, it was all silent. I was given three rules by the guards: Must be silent, no movement, no putting anything on the table. I had no intention of speaking anyway.

I find the presence of "rules" here really interesting and kind of disappointing. I wonder: whose rules are these, and have they been active the entire time (I know people who have tried to communicate or mess with the table have been eventually thrown out)? Does anyone know more about this?
posted by EL-O-ESS at 1:38 PM on April 22, 2010

I can't explain how surreal it is to be browsing those portraits (which are already a bit unnerving) and see someone you know. I'm not even anywhere near New York!
posted by a.steele at 1:43 PM on April 22, 2010

If any Mefites go, I'd love to hear their firsthand account of the experience.
posted by disillusioned at 2:09 PM on April 22, 2010

Another revisitor: Day 6, 57 min., Day 7, 15 min., Day 10, 58 min., Day 15, 68 min.
posted by Henrik at 2:26 PM on April 22, 2010

Just today I was reading about the practice of darshan in which it's sort of a intense dose of spirituality to be in the presence of the attention of (I guess) a particular kind of advanced meditator. One, uh, being that gives darshan is a big piece of obsidian. Maybe you can tell I'm not all that clean on the specifics, but this seems like the exact same thing.
posted by cmoj at 2:34 PM on April 22, 2010

I send my friend a facebook message after seeing his photo in the Flickr portrait set, and here's what he had to say about the experience:

[after teasing him for his time--8 minutes--and asking if it was scary]
It seemed longer! I didn't think is was scary; I found it more meditative and using highly subtle body movements to communicate back and forth. Afterwards, I couldn't look at anything like art.

I definitely recommend it. Everything is part of the performance (like waiting in line, watching and actually sitting). It reminds me more on the idea of power in the role of the sitter.The only thing I didn't like was the gallery attendants giving the sitters instructions ("No big movements! Just sit down and enjoy the moment!") Honestly, I started to tear a little bit in front of Abramovic.

posted by a.steele at 3:18 PM on April 22, 2010

I didn't expect this to be compelling. That was before I looked at every. single. picture.
posted by patrick rhett at 3:38 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the links. I really enjoyed looking through the photos and wondering what the sitters were thinking or feeling as they looked at the artist, and how they knew their time at the table was ready to end. Such an intense and personal exchange in what is a very public setting; I'd love to participate in this.
posted by vespertine at 4:08 PM on April 22, 2010

I was just at this the other day! My friends and I stood and waited to see if we could watch the Changing of the Participants but we didn't have the patience for it. I specifically remember seeing the photographer, mostly because the lens he was using was enormous, so it's neat to see what he was actually doing. After having seen it first hand, I can't imagine how intense a feeling it must be to be sitting up there. I definitely couldn't have done it.
posted by lisawin at 5:26 PM on April 22, 2010

His picture is linked upthread, and Colm Tóibín wrote about his experience sitting with Abramovic.
posted by dnesan at 5:44 PM on April 22, 2010

I did this - I happened to be in Midtown just after MoMA opened, and the line didn't look very long that day, so I got in line. The wait ended up being about two and a half hours - bring a book if you're planning on doing this.

But the actual experience: well, you're in the middle of the atrium at MoMA, which is a big space, and there's a lot of light on you. There are also video cameras (and monitors) on three sides. It's an inherently theatrical space, though you forget that surprisingly quickly.

It's an odd experience - because it's hard to look at someone for a long time, this just isn't how we behave in polite society with people we don't know. But here you're supposed to stare; when you move to the center, you're also being stared at by the crowd, but you forget about that. By the time I got to her, Abramovic looked very tired - this was about three weeks into the exhibit, and four hours into the day. The image that kept coming to mind is of the suffering Christ - one of Antonello da Messina's in particular - where tiredness & suffering are intertwined, as is the idea that he's the victim for the onlookers, which seems kind of germane to what she's doing. There is something a bit unsavory in that - I don't know what I think about the way she's presenting herself as a suffering victim, especially as she's now a marquee name & MoMA is paying her a great deal of money for the performance. (Kafka's "A Hunger Artist" comes to mind.) But she is clearly suffering, that's not an act - and looking at her, you find yourself implicated in that suffering. It's a confusing situation, because there are a lot of things at play. Looking at her, you realize that what she must be seeing is very different from what you're seeing.

There's also, of course, the physiological impact of looking at one thing for a long time. You lose track of time - I really had no idea how long I was up there. I found myself in a weird, dream-like state, almost drifting in & out of sleep: it takes a surprising amount of concentration to just look at someone.
posted by with hidden noise at 7:31 PM on April 22, 2010 [9 favorites]

So if you blink, you lose?
posted by iamck at 8:06 PM on April 22, 2010

I saw this yesterday (the Cartier-Bresson show just launched and the Tim Burton exhibit is just about to end - this was easily the most memorable part of the trip).

The thing that strikes me about everything she's done is she never really knows what's going to happen during her performance. It's like she invented Jackass. In some of her previous pieces (as detailed upstairs in the retrospective, I had no idea) she has no recollection of what happened (the wikipedia page doesn't do the performances justice, I wish I could find her instructions online somewhere). In this case, the repeat offenders and celebrities are mere reflections of an idea she had.

The biggest problem with performance art (as evidenced by her restaging of previous work by other artists in Seven Easy Pieces) is it's not as effective out of context. Interestingly, that also makes it nearly unmarketable. It's like john cage's silent piece, it can be an amazing transformative experience first hand, but who's going to buy the cd?
posted by minkll at 8:57 PM on April 22, 2010

I think the Holy Moment scene from Waking Life helps explain why so many people are brought to tears.
posted by daHIFI at 10:48 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

You know, I keep coming back to the web-view thing of the performance. It's really pretty genius: It doesn't convey, I'm sure, what it is to be there - to wait in the line, or not, and to see all the people seeing her and whoever she's sitting with, and the cameras and the, you know, scenery of it. But it's still compelling as all get out.

What's kind of interesting is this was - no doubt - not conceived (and certainly its conceptual roots - the soup of ideas from which it sprung) with the internet in any way in mind. Yet it works very well over the net...
posted by From Bklyn at 12:38 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

That Flickr photoset by Marco Anelli is one of the most fascinating photo sets I've ever seen. And I'm not inclined to hyperbole in this matter. It's stunning.
posted by sidereal at 8:04 PM on April 23, 2010

Day 1, Portrait 2 is of Tehching Hsieh (warning: Flash), a performance artist who created year-long pieces in the 80's. One in particular, from 1980 - 1981, involved him standing in front of a 9mm camera, with a time clock and wearing work overalls, taking a single frame for every hour of time that elapsed — for an entire year; he also shaved his head and allowed his hair to grow out to mark the passage of time.

Being inspired by that particular project, it's quite a treat to see the convergence of other artists in performance pieces, especially since Tehching Hsieh has stopped creating art as part of his final performance (direct-link .jpg).

(Previously on the blue.)
posted by skidknee at 9:43 AM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by cashman at 11:48 PM on April 27, 2010

OMG Hsieh! That makes me so happy that he showed up.
posted by Theta States at 6:08 AM on April 28, 2010

I took the bus down from Boston to see this last Saturday, just because of this post-- thanks, ocherdraco! I wound up watching this woman's sitting from start to finish. She was small and mousy in a pale blouse and jeans, perched on the edge of her seat with a little forward slouch, hands folded in her lap, feet flat on the floor, never moving. The edge of the ring felt surprisingly far away, and it was actually difficult to see her face in detail. I didn't realize she was crying until she slowly lifted one hand up to wipe her nose. That was probably about 45 minutes in, which felt like 20 minutes at the time. For a long moment she appeared as if about to stand, but she recovered. My own feet ached from standing in one spot so long, but I wanted to stay until the end. I wonder how long I would have stayed-- all afternoon I think. Suddenly her lip began to tremble, and she hunched forward a bit more, then in a single abrupt move, dropped her head and stood and walked away. Abramovic dropped her own head into her hands and wiped her face.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 9:52 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Great! I'm glad you went. I still haven't found the time to go myself—I'd go over my lunch hour one day, but I feel like that isn't enough time, really.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:40 AM on April 29, 2010

I went last Sunday (May 2nd) and this woman was in the chair from the time I walked in to when I left. I kind of wanted to see the changeover but this was interesting in a different way. She was there for five hours, until the end time.

P.S. They got rid of the table at some point.
posted by smackfu at 2:02 PM on May 10, 2010

From the MoMA website: A short interview with Paco Blancas, the "mystery man" who has visited the exhibit 14 times.
posted by a.steele at 11:30 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

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