On Sunday I went to MoMa to see "The Artist is Present," a retrospective of Marina Abramovic's work. And Marina was present, sitting on the second floor of the museum in a brilliant, flowing red dress. At 62, Abramovic doesn't look at day over 38. I jumped to the conclusion that she must look healthy and young because she gets to live her passion every day. Even if that passion is sitting in MoMa, staring at strangers.
Or carving a pentagram onto her stomach using a razor blade.
Or cleaning hundreds of cow bones for the Venice Biennale.
Or handing 72 objects of pain and torture to an audience and telling them "do to me what you will."
Or screaming at the top of her lungs until she lost her voice.
Or standing in the center of a blazing star until she lost consciousness from the fumes.
Or breaking up with her partner and collaborator by each of them walking the Great Wall of China from opposite ends, only to say goodbye once they reach the center.
The list goes on.
Obviously Abramovic can't been in twenty places at one time, and I don't think the Great Wall will fit in MoMa, so most of these pieces are exhibited through video. A few of them, however, are performed by actual human beings. (No, sadly not the pentagram piece). As a patron you do have the option of entering the exhibit by walking in between two naked people (Marina and Ulay in the original below).
I walked in between two naked guys. At first I was nonchalant about it, but after squeezing through I felt a surge of euphoria closely followed by panic and shame. Both of them looked wildly uncomfortable, and hot. MoMa had the heat on, and everyone was sweating - even the naked performers. Squeezing past them with a bag, a purse, a heavy coat and my big military boots wasn't easy. After, I felt bad. It's strange to look at art and have it look back at you. One performer, naked, laying on a slab that came up about waist-high in another room was covered in a skeleton. He looked at me, I looked at him. I tried to focus on looking at his body as a whole, avoiding eye contact, but I couldn't. He seemed sad, in pain. I wanted to bring him some water.
After the exhibit I was so exhausted (mentally, physically, emotionally) that I collapsed on my living room couch and didn't move for nearly two hours. I was overwhelmed by Abramovic's body of work, both in its scope and its nature. There's no distinction between Abramovic and her canvas. She is her canvas. I can't think of any kind of living that's more alive and real. Surely there will be haters who think the exhibit useless, but to hell with them. This exhibit is an inspiration. I walked out of MoMa feeling violated in the best way possible, thinking to myself: how can I live and feel and work on this level? I want it. No matter how uncomfortable. I want that kind of work. Every day. So now: how to do it?