Oh Marina!

Is it just me or is anyone else really excited about seeing “The Artist is Present” on HBO? Ok, so it’s not really the thought of *seeing* it that excites me, but the fact that it is being shown in a setting other than a dingy little theater and seen by 2 hipsters. Or, on second thought, should the idea of Marina Abramovic as a mainstream artist depress me? Like Vaneeesa said elsewhere, it is quite interesting to see how/why Abramovic’s work (or should I say Abramovic herself) has become so popular compared to the work of other performance artists like Allan Kaprow. I have to say that Abramovic’s sensationalism does lend itself well to popular culture, and while we may not want to admit it, she is a beautiful woman that has fashioned herself into a pop icon while Kaprow is not the most handsome or exhilarating man out there. See what I mean?!

Marina Abramovic in all her glory; wearing a Givenchy leather jacket
Allan Kaprow in his dungarees

Long story short, it is not an accident that Abramovic’s popularity has grown so much in recent year or that her performances have entered mainstream consciousness. Regardless of what has and will be said of her, Abramovic demands attention. What do you all think?


Author: Kathleen Cool
I am a graduate student studying how people experience informal education, particularly art, in virtual worlds such as Second Life. My background is in both Art History and Computer Science. Please feel free to email me or IM me in SL (Kathleen Koolhoven) if you have any questions regarding my current research or want to participate in my study.

6 thoughts on “Oh Marina!

  1. The first thing that must be said is that no matter how much fame and recognition Abramovic receives, she deserves it. No one has challenged themself more, for more decades, than her. This is a singular body of work for the ages.

    Much of her work is also difficult and can make people uncomfortable, so it’s really a surprise that she has ascended from artworld to pop celebrity status. In fact Allan Kaprow’s “playful” Happenings would seem far more likely to have public appeal than Abramovic’s edginess.

    They have pursued rather different goals in this respect. After Kaprow invented the Happening in the 60’s, the defining art movement of the decade, he walked away from it. Even as Abramovic creates her own cultural institution today, back then Kaprow walked away from The Happening, from fame, and from New York, because he didn’t feel that was what art was about for him. For the rest of his life he cultivated an outsider sort of status and always had an uneasy relationship with cultural institutions.

    Kaprow and Abramovic are very similar. And very different. Abramovic comes from the austerity of a former Eastern Bloc country. Kaprow comes from the free spiritedness of the American Hippie era. Abramovic often puts her body on the line in intense physical acts. Kaprow’s work while consisting of physical actions, is far more cerebral. Yet, in a way I find that what they both ask of me is similar. They both ask us to slow down and to pay way more attention to the small details and moments of the states and places we find ourselves in. Way more attention than our ADHD lifestyles typically afford.

    haha, ironic that Eva & Franco Mattes who have reperformed a number of Abramovic & Ulay pieces in Second Life, had a show a while back which they titled “ADHD.”

    In terms of gender roles it’s interesting that Abramovic always has a “heroic male” aspect to her work and Kaprow always had a “nurturing female” aspect to his. Abramovic is always the “World Record Holder,” the “Olympic Gold Medalist,” Number One! Kaprow never wanted that and spent a lifetime exploring the beauty of the smallest actions and interactions.

    Again, for all their differences in style and tone, their very different formal feel, their rather separate aesthetics, I do find that ideologically they connect. They both are asking us to more deeply live moments than the vast majority of us ever do.

    In answer to your question, yes! I’m really excited about seeing “The Artist is Present” on HBO!
    (I don’t actually use television, but I’m excited about seeing it on DVD or something)

    1. I really think that you’ve hit the nail on the head with your comment. Ultimately, Abramovic and Kaprow are both similar in a conceptual sense and vastly different. I totally agree that Abramovic deserves all the attention she is receiving and so would Kaprow, if he was. What I believe sets them apart and that bleeds into their work is their distinct personalities and cultural heritage. While it is true that Abramovic’s work is at times difficult and can make people very uncomfortable, she demands the attention of her audience regardless of whether you like or dislike (or even understand) what you see. I, for one, am not surprised in the least that her work has received so much attention lately. For one, to all laymen out there with little knowledge or interest in art, her performances are akin to a car crash (or for that matter, reality television) – you cannot help but rubberneck. There is something primal about her and her work that encapsulates a strength and vulnerability that is almost impossible to deny. Kaprow’s work on the other hand is tamer and as you said, playful. There is no tethering, as in the case of Abramovic, between extremes, between life and death. Kaprow’s work does not scream – look at me, feel what I feel, nor is that his intent. His approach is almost more intellectual than visceral. Abramovic commands attention because she dares to act out her (as well as ours) worst fears, dares to put her body and psyche through hell to catch the attention of her audience – all to make us pay attention to our limitlessness as human beings. Marina, we are paying attention!

        1. I have! It’s a pretty compelling interview even she does abuse the word limitless. Regardless of what anyone might think about Lady Gaga, she did contribute to the recent surge in popularity of performance art. Her entrance (and outfit) at MOMA during Abramovic’s performance, while somewhat contrived, was a performance it itself. In fact, in an interview with Matthew Akers, Abramovic stated: “Television is completely another medium. For me, Lady Gaga and HBO are bringing us to mass culture. It was incredible, Lady Gaga came to see the piece. She didn’t sit with me, but it was all atwitter. Every single kid from 12 to 18 ran to see Lady Gaga and then Lady Gaga left and they stayed. And they stayed another day another day and it created a completely different culture, a different audience that I never had before…” You can read the interview in its entirety at http://www.indiewire.com/article/interview-marina-abramovic-director-explain-why-hbo-and-lady-gaga-are-bringing-performance-art-to-a-new-audience.

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