Monday, June 11, 2012


TrustMovies has never seen performance artist Marina Abramović in person, as did those thousands of art-loving patrons who visited MoMA from March through May, 2010, to get a little one-on-one eye contact with the artist, during which she and that visitor simply sat across a small table and stared into each other's eyes without any other form of communication. TM, however, had seen one other film about Ms Abramović some years back, and it -- and she -- proved interesting enough that he has never forgotten it. (He has, unfortunately, forgotten the title of the film: According to the IMDB it most probably was Seven Easy Pieces, in which the venue was the Guggenheim Museum.)

Abramović, shown on poster, top, and above, is quite a woman: beautiful, strong, assured and willing to disrobe and throw her body every and any which way for her art. She tells us that she's now spent nearly 40 years trying to get people to take her seriously, coming up against the question, asked time and again: "Why is this art?" I must admit to having asked this question myself, finally taking refuge in the fact that hers is performance art. Honestly, though, I have asked that same question (and still do) about most of the work of Andy Warhol and certain other artists of the modern stripe, and the only answer I can come up with is this: If the work makes you look at the world in a different way, maybe that -- rather than the definition a long-ago junior-high-school friend once voiced: "She can draw good" -- is what it takes to make something "art."

In his film MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ THE ARTIST IS PRESENT, director Matthew Akers (shown at left) weaves together the artist's past and present, her earlier works (a moment from which is shown two photos below), her performance partner and (ex-) lover, and mostly the preparation for and performance of the MoMA show. This is quite a challenge but Akers and his crew, together with the artist herself, rise to it and give us a wonderfully inclusive look at how and why Abramović does what she does, what she gets out of this, and finally, what her audience gets from it, too. It's this last part that, for me at least, proved most problematic, even a little annoying, but certainly quite interesting.

In this MoMA show, above, the audience, one by one, has the chance to interact with the artist by gazing for a few minutes into her eyes (or elsewhere, I suppose) and thus connecting. The response to this, from quite a number of people -- or at least those the filmmaker chooses to concentrate on -- comes off as awfully close to something approaching a, well, "religious" experience. It's almost as though the artist is being touted as a deity. (Since early times, artists have considered, in some societies, at least, closer to the divine.)

People come away from the table in tears, transfigured, and clearly shaken up. Is this due to the force of Ms Abramović or to the relatively unusual situation, in our current days, of taking the time to simply look at another person, deeply and quietly, without verbal communication? I am guessing that it's the latter rather than the former, and that if Abramović were substituted with me or you or even the film's director -- really, wouldn't it be lovely to gaze into that beautiful face (two photos above), with its direct and open visage? -- that people might find this activity pretty entrancing, too. Of course, none of the rest of us come freighted with the advance reputation of "artist" that Abramović carries, and since marketing is often "all," this probably would play a major part in those disciples getting quite carried away in the presence of their leader. This is all based on "if," of course, and is not really provable. But it seems to me certainly worth considering.

Not everyone in the audience is there to fawn or cry. Some have rather special agenda. One young woman disrobes before being carted away by the guards, and celebrities also show up -- James Franco, noted for his own performacne art -- for instance. Golly: Even Fox News, that great upholder of art in our time, gets into the act! Finally, the movie says rather a lot about the audience (and the media) in addition to what it tells us about the artist. Which is probably as it should be. I would hope that Ms Abramović is pleased with how interestingly encompassing the movie has turned out. In that sense, the film is about, as another performance artist once put it, Me and You and Everyone We Know.

In any case, these three months proved a grueling time for this performance artist doing this particular performance. You can see, from the photo above, how the days and weeks were highlighted on the wall of the museum (this shot was taken at around the halfway point). I cannot remember whether the shot below, with Abramović under the table, stretching or maybe communing, was taken before or after she began her days's work. Either way, the strain of sitting quietly the whole damn day, as one after another visitor parades in front of you, demands some easing, and the artist, who has long used her body as her best artistic tool, certainly knows how to take care of her equipment.

The movie -- from HBO Documentary Films and running one hour and 46 minutes -- opens for a two-week run this Wednesday, June 13, in New York City at Film Forum, and on Friday, June 15, in Los Angeles at Landmark's NuArt. Even considering the many art-themed documentaries we've seen of late, I don't think you'll have witnessed anything quite like this one.

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