The MoMA has never shied away from presenting artists who challenge the viewer. Their latest exhibit, featuring performance Yugoslavian-born artist, Marina Abramovic, is no exception. Abramovic challenges the viewer from the onset. Want to see the exhibit? Sure, but you’ll have to squeeze through two nude performers first.
This isn’t about sensationalism. The exhibition is too intimate and too personal and the artist is too present to allow any room for sensationalism. On the surface, the exhibition is about discomfort and fear and the gamut of insecurities that fill the spaces between these two experiences. At the crux, the exhibition is about the viewer’s (and the performers’) confrontation of these very real, very universal human experiences.
The nude performers stand only inches apart. What is immediately apparent is that contact may be unavoidable. At the very least, there is the necessary uncomfortable proximity of one’s body brushing dangerously close with the nude body of a stranger. Suddenly, it is no longer only the nude performers who appear vulnerable, it is the viewer as well.
Aptly entitled, “The Artist is Present”, the word “present” metamorphoses into a myriad of interpretations. The show takes place in the very real present; the artist is present (one might even say omnipresent); the source from which stem some of our fears is presented for us to confront…
For much of the work, the setting is as intimate as our own personal insecurities. In “Performance“, one small table sits in the middle of the MoMA’s Marron Atrium. Two chairs face each other across the table. One can imagine sitting down to dinner with a close friend at such a table, only this isn’t about dinner and it isn’t about close friendship. It’s about knowledge and acute self-awareness.
On one chair sits Abramovic. The other invites the viewer to sit. And therein begins an unsettling exchange which has nothing to do with words. Abramovic stares right at you and you, are free to stare right back. The experience is like having your very being penetrated by a stranger. Suddenly, intimacy can appear frightening, perhaps even claustrophobic.
When does the staring end? When the viewer decides to get up.
Abramovic’s art encroaches on all aspects of our fears and insecurities so that, by the end of the exhibition, we are as stripped of our clothes as the performers who greeted us at the exhibition’s entrance.