Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

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In the spring of 2010, visitors to New York’s Museum of Modern Art could find Marina Abramović, the self-described “grandmother of performance art,” holding court. She sat silently, all day, every day, for three months. Patrons could take turns sitting across from her for as long as they pleased. She had worked with a trainer and a nutritionist to endure long days of sitting. “If it’s comfortable, your mind can just go away. It’s not right. You have to be very aware.”

Abramović’s grueling performance was the latest in four decades of grueling performances, and the centerpiece of the first retrospective of her work. Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present featured recreations of other performances, including “Imponderabilia,” in which viewers have to squeeze past two performers standing naked in a doorway; and “Luminosity,” in which another performer perches on a bicycle seat mounted on the wall. This summer, HBO will revisit that retrospective with a documentary of the same name.

MoMA had never staged a retrospective of a performance artist’s work before, and since Abramović is at the center of all of her performances, The Artist is Present created special challenges. Abramović hand-picked 36 young performers to recreate five of her pieces for the show. “Performance is a living art form,” Abramović says. “If it’s not re-performed, it’s going to die.”

(Originally aired: April 2, 2010)

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