Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Artist Will See You Now

“Sit still,” the teacher says to the rowdy student. We all know this scene. A good proportion of us were probably that rowdy student unable to sit still for long periods of time. That’s what makes Marina Abramović’s 2010 performance The Artist is Present so staggering. From March 14th to May 31st, Abramović spent a total of 736.5 hours silently seated at a simple wooden table as visitors and celebrities could take turns sitting across from her.

This 2010 exhibit was a part of the Museum of Modern Art’s retrospective on Abramović career as a performance artist. She has a thirty-year career pushing the limits of pain, endurance, and the human experience in her art. The Artist is Present was her longest-running performance to date. Although she and the museum organizers were initially worried that people would not show up, thousands of visitors crowded the second-floor atrium for their turn to sit with the artist. This simple concept was incredibly moving for some people. Many found themselves laughing or weeping. Abramović believes this happened because for the first time, people were confronted with the lonesome reality of their own personality staring back through her blank stare.

Abramović often calls herself the “grandmother of performance art.” Though she began her work in her late twenties, she did not garner the worldwide fame and success from The Artist is Present until she was 64. Malcolm Gladwell talks about these “late-bloomer” creatives as having different qualities than creative prodigies. Late bloomers often have more “experimental” work than their prodigy counterparts. This is certainly true of Abramović. Her work tests the limits of human endurance, pain, and tolerance. The Artist is Present specifically invited others to share in this experience. From twelve-year-olds, to regular museum-goers, to celebrities like Lady Gaga and Abramović’s former boyfriend Ulay, all were invited to partake in this large scale social experiment. So much of Abramović’s work relies on her confidence in her ability. In a follow-up exhibition in London, Abramović got rid of what little structure MoMA provided and just spent her time walking around the exhibition space. Each day, as with the 2010 exhibit, was different depending on the specific visitors of the time.

At the heart of this creative work is Love, claims Abramović. In other performances, Abramović would provoke hatred or anger by giving the public things like chainsaws or loaded revolvers. Yet, the New York exhibition was all about love. Abramović grew up in a tightly-controlled Communist home where her mother dictated every waking hour. Much of her work rebels against this upbringing. “My whole idea at MoMA was to give unconditional love to every stranger” Abramović said in an interview with the Guardian. Through the public’s reaction and the exhibit’s popularity, it seems that this motivation had a significant role in the Abramović’s success.



  1. What an interesting topic! I have never considered the ways in which silently sitting with someone can convey emotions as well, if not better, than words. I wonder what my creative, Picasso, would have said about an exhibit like this. He was constantly pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable in the art world so I would think that he would enjoy the artistic originality.

  2. It is very interesting to see how art has evolved into something that is beyond the limits of a canvas. I would never have thought that a simple action of sitting across a table with someone could evoke such a variety of feelings in the participants, such as the weeping and laughing mentioned above. I think that is the reason that her work is so amazing and inspiring. She causes people to think about what it means to be human and come to terms with their inner emotions. I wonder how she comes up with her idea for her works? When I read that the theme of this piece was unconditional love, I was surprised. In addition, I wonder what her pieces about hate look like and if they evoke a wide range of emotions in the participants as well. In the end, she is a unique creator that puts a lot of thought and dedication into her works.


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