On Monday, I published this blog entry about the Marina Abramović retrospective at MoMA
. Monday night, I received a text message from friend David Michael Cohen
, alerting me to the fact that we had to go see the Tim Burton exhibit
this week because it was closing the following Monday. We made plans to go Wednesday morning, before the museum was opened to the public.
"Do you want to sit with Marina?" texted DMC.
"Of course," I texted back.
Before the groping headlines
, I was keenly intrigued by Marina Abramović after Dave's wife Jenny was telling me about the MoMA exhibit and Marina's body of work as a performance artist. While the retrospective would employ young nubile performers reenacting many of Marina's earlier work (see the groper headlines), Marina herself would be part of a new piece titled THE ARTIST IS PRESENT. Sitting in a chair for hours on end. From before the museum opened till after the museum closed. Without any breaks, without any food or water. (Fuck you, David Blaine.) Sitting and staring at a steady stream of strangers. Each allowed to sit for however long they wanted to...
"If we get into Burton early, we'll need to get you to the Marina line exactly at 10:30," DMC texted in response. "My bro-in-law was 5th in line and he waited all day and never got to her, because the third person sat for over 6 hours. She was a bitch."
So, Wednesday morning we spent a good hour at the Tim Burton exhibit
before heading to the Marina Abramović showdown... and what a circus it was...
Bright lights. Cameras all over. Security pacing about. The filthy public masses chomping at the bit to be let into the museum. And then DMC and I, cutting to the front of the line with our bad VIP selves.
That's not entirely accurate. There were a few museum employees who managed to out-VIP us. Just a few, it didn't seem like a big deal.
As soon as the museum opened, a pack of French tourists stampeded in and tried to cut us as we formed the queue. I hesitated because the scene was far more of a large-scale spectacle than I was anticipating—the massive space, the crowds—but DMC managed to cut in front of the obnoxious French tourists and save our place.
And then, we waited.
This was nerve-wracking for me.
It felt like we were waiting in line to ride on a roller-coaster. It also brought back childhood memories of waiting in line to sit on Santa's lap at the mall. (Marina's long red dress helped complete this memory.) That nervous anticipation, not wanting to screw it up. I feared the impulse to scream out at her: "I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!"
I honestly thought it was just going to be a laugh. But what I quickly grew to appreciate was that when you sit opposite Ms. Abramović in that chair, you're no longer a spectator. You're a part of her exhibit.
And all these people flooding through the museum, drool leaking out of their slack-jawed maws as they gawk at you from multiple levels and vantage points in that cavernous MoMA atrium. Taking pictures they aren't allowed to take. Even Tea Leoni
) had followed us from the Tim Burton exhibit and stood crouched at the side of the Abramović set. Watching all the people engage in these staring contests with Abramović. The idea of all the people staring at me was scary enough, but Tea Leoni, too...?
The first two visitors didn't sit too long. One girl was there for maybe 5 minutes. Another spent a good half an hour. And then... we got the ball-buster. This tall, dirty-blond number. As we waited and chatted with the nice young MoMA intern
who was standing just ahead of us, he informed us that she was actually one of the performers in Marina's retrospective exhibit. Due to be up on the 6th floor for her (groping) shift. And yet, there she sat opposite Ms. Abramović for a small, unknowable eternity...
It was an epic wait. The MoMA intern pointed out a guy with a moustache
further down the line, who'd apparently been there EVERY
. Another anecdote about a young wannabe performance artist who came to the exhibit wearing a long blue dress in mockery of Marina's dress—even going so far as to wear a prosthetic nose. Some people sat opposite Marina and just broke down in tears
The crowds swelled and thinned in waves. Tea Leoni left. And we were still waiting. The MoMA intern promised us that he'd only sit for three minutes if/when the dirty blond stopped bogarting the exhibit. But there was no end in sight. And we'd been waiting so long at that point, we had to see this through.
"This isn't as funny as I thought it would be," I bleakly confessed to DMC.
A MoMA photographer/videographer overheard some of our conversation and asked if he could shoot an interview with us about our experience waiting in the line. This was already wayyy more exposure than I was a looking for. I'm a fucking writer. On my own blog, I refer to myself using an alias. Still, I agreed because I hate playing the role of the spoilsport. And right before we were about to give our little interview, Little Miss I'm-In-Two-Exhibits-At-The-MoMA got up off her ass and allowed the exhibit to keep going.
As soon as she left, the videographer refocused on an interview with HER. So, she's booked for another exhibit in the museum, she takes another one hostage for well over an hour, and she milks a little more exposure from the video guy. This is why I love humanity.
MoMA intern had promised to take just 3 minutes on the chair. I only wanted to spend about 30 seconds on the chair, but DMC wanted to run to the second floor and snap some pictures of me before I bolted, which meant I had to stay for at least a few minutes. (DMC also decided to take an impromptu turn in the chair himself, right before me, for just about 30 seconds. Just to show the other people in line that you didn't have to sit there forever to make some sort of point.)
Have you made it this far? It's a lot of words to get here, I know, but I felt it important to document the journey to this point. And then, it was my turn...
As you approach the vacant chair, Marina Abramović's head is lowered and her eyes are closed. As you sit, she slowly lifts her head and gently opens her eyes.
"... don't put anything on the table, not even your hands...," the security guard informed us before our turn. "When you're sitting there, keep your eyes focused on her eyes. If you're looking all over the place, it disrupts her focus."
I thought it would be like staring at a statue. I knew she would say nothing and offer no reactions. I imagined that she would simply be staring right through me—technically looking at me but not honestly looking at me at all.
But sitting there in front of her... it wasn't like staring at the cold eyes of a statue at all. With an exhibit like this, there may be a tendency to project something that may not be there... but there seemed to be a peculiar sense of compassion
radiating from her gaze. She was looking right at me; not through me, but at me. I could see her glossy lips move slightly. I could see her breathe. She seemed to be entirely present with me. And I swear, the din of the crowd began to mute out and the rest of the world seemed to fade slightly. Like I was legitimately sharing this trance-like state she was in. So much so that I grew momentarily concerned that I would lose track of time and wouldn't see DMC giving me the signal that it was okay to go.
At the end, I slowly lowered my head, which signaled Ms. Abramović that I was departing.
happened. (And a lot more profoundly than expected.)
Afterwards, DMC and I ran up to the 6th floor to take a walk through the gropey retrospective with all the nude models. There was a reenactment of Marina's nude passageway piece, wherein two naked models (of varying gender pairings) stand opposite each other and guests are permitted to walk in between them.
I opted not to do it. I thought the girl model was plenty cute but the idea of a bare cock brushing my backside was not very appealing to me. (So sue me!) The intrepid DMC went for it, though. When he did, I swiftly ran around to the other side of the wall to watch him come out the other side; I thought it would be funnier to see his reaction as he made it through. Of course, some visitor girl saw me running up to the piece with a big grin on my face and she shot me a brief "you're a disgusting perv" look.
When did I become the bad guy...?Flickr portraits
of every visitor to THE ARTIST IS PRESENT, with an accompanying indication of the time spent in the chair.
Some really interesting Behind-The-Scenes Videos
over at the MoMA site.
For more information about Marina Abramović, visit your local library. (Or just skim through the wikipedia entry