Tag Archives: performance art

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking-3

The first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A Journal of Contemporary Art Issues, was published in December 1986. M/E/A/N/I/N/G is a collaboration between two artists, Susan Bee and Mira Schor, both painters with expanded interests in writing and politics, and an extended community of artists, art critics, historians, theorists, and poets, whom we sought to engage in discourse and to give a voice to.

For our 30th anniversary and final issue, we have asked some long-time contributors and some new friends to create images and write about where they place meaning today. As ever, we have encouraged artists and writers to feel free to speak to the concerns that have the most meaning to them right now.

Every other day from December 5 until we are done, a grouping of contributions will appear on A Year of Positive Thinking. We invite you to live through this time with all of us in a spirit of impromptu improvisation and passionate care for our futures.

Susan Bee and Mira Schor


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Sheila Pepe: The United States of Calvin

In 1856, one-time pastor and faculty of the Harvard Divinity School Ralph Waldo Emerson published English Traits. As an introduction to a text that exhaustively conveys all favorable traits of the Englishman, Emerson a champion anglophile, asserts the precision of race as not only historic, but also plainly scientific. “It is race, is it not?,” Emerson asks, “that puts the hundred millions of India under the dominion of a remote island in the north of Europe.” His answer is yes. No wonder he was late to the idea of abolition.

Less than seventy-five years later, in 1928, the Harvard Theological Review (Vol. 21, No.3, Jul., pp.163-195) publishes Kemper Fullerton’s “Calvinism and Capitalism.” Within these thirty-two pages many ends are achieved. Most important is, as the title conveys, building a finer point upon Max Weber’s ideas connecting “Protestantism and money making.” For Fullerton the Protestantism key to leadership in modern American Capitalism is specifically Calvinism. Lutheranism doesn’t quite make the grade. Catholicism would catapult us back into the Middle Ages, as Catholics cling to professions in the handicrafts, rather than that of financier, industrialist, or technical expert. Consider the year it was published. In 1928 New York Governor, Catholic and reformer Al Smith was running for president. Wall Street was riding high and Prohibition, which Smith ran against, was in full swing. The Republicans had failed to reapportion Congress and the Electoral College after the 1920 census (which had registered a 15 percent increase in the urban population). Smith lost to Herbert Hoover in a landslide. Many ascribed the loss to the three “P’s” – Prosperity, Prejudice, and Prohibition.

Both the Puritans of Boston Bay Colony and the Dutch Reformed traders of New Amsterdam were Calvinist-based communities. Both built secular societies that were completely religious by design. That is, they believed that man lay bare in the unmediated presence of God. That each individual had an obligation to that God to live a highly disciplined life persistently in pursuit of good works in a secular world. Good work was not social work, rather productive, profitable work. “The Calvinist practised (sic) self-discipline not even to secure assurance (that he was elected for salvation); he practised it for the glory of God, and in the practise of it assurance came.” As Fullerton argues, this is the perfect platform for modern capitalism. Tireless money making at the expense of others is not bad, but there were limits – flagrant avarice was not seen as appropriately ascetic.

As founding father and Boston-born Ben Franklin would say, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” This seems a benign enough aphorism for his young America, even while fueled by a mandate from heaven. What the good humor and simplicity belies is that this country wasn’t simply founded by oligarchs, but by a religious oligarchy that squarely placed duty to God in the secular commons. This is not new; it simply persists.

As we look to find ways to change the damage done in this last presidential election, let’s consider U.S. values as a set of religiously formulated dictates, not the least of which is, for example, the construction of race in the service of making money for the glory of God. No one is out of the loop on this one – whether or not there was or is a “God” in your life. We might wonder where exactly the separation of church and state is in this country, and if the toleration of difference in the service of commerce is adequate expression of civil rights.

It’s time to ask again, and hopefully for the last time: What is this secular church that calls itself America?


Sheila Pepe, “Glass Ceiling Fantasy,” 2006. Charcoal + chalk on grey paper

Sheila Pepe lives and works in Brooklyn. She is a resident of the Sharpe-Walentas Program. Pepe is working on an exhibition and book with Gilbert Vicario, Chief Curator of the Phoenix Museum, AZ.


Joseph Nechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal, Portrait of the 45th President of the United States, 11/2016 (dimensions variable)

Joseph Nechvatal, Portrait of the 45th President of the United States, 11/2016 (dimensions variable)

For this digital painting entitled Portrait of the 45th President of the United States, I have taken an official Wikipedia photo portrait of Donald Trump and buried it in visual noise, denying his presence to a large degree. The idea is to visually refuse to acknowledge him clearly as president. To stop reproducing him and his brand as presidential. To resist and oppose him with noise.

Joseph Nechvatal’s computer-robotic assisted paintings and computer software animations are shown regularly in galleries and museums. Towards an Immersive Intelligence: Essays on the Work of Art in the Age of Computer Technology and Virtual Reality (1993-2006) was published by Edgewise Press in 2009. In 2011, Immersion Into Noise was published by the University of Michigan Library. His collected critical art reviews at Hyperallergic can be accessed here.

Martha Wilson as Donald Trump: Politics and Performance Art are One and the Same.

Grace Exhibition Space May 29; Smack Mellon, July 31, 2016; Creative Time Summit/Transformer party, October 13, 2016; P.P.O.W “Inauguration” exhibition, October 28; Tara benefit November 6, 2016.

Enter to Queen, “We are the Champions”

Hello America! People keep asking me how I’m going to make America great again. How I’m going to make America safe again. It’s you and me baby—we’re going to do this together.

It’s the coming of the solid state
When we’ll all be together again
Just like—I can’t remember when
We’ll have paradise on Earth at last

It’s the coming of the solid state
Instantaneous control’s what it takes
No more dropouts to spoil the view
Our society will be so cute!

It’s the coming of the solid state
When morality follows interest rates
Making money’s a right God-given
Here’s to Calvin—is it Coolidge or –ism?

(Put on glasses)

I don’t care if you record me talking about grabbing women’s pussies; however, I never let photos be taken of me wearing glasses. I don’t want to look like a 4-eyed egghead LOSER. But this performance is in the artworld, which does not count.

Hi! I am Martha Wilson, an artist and an arts administrator dressed up like Donald J. Trump. In all my previous performances, I have endeavored to go completely into Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Tipper Gore’s brains, so see what it’s like in there. But I had to turn off Donald’s speech to the Republican National Convention. I am here today wearing both personae to say a few words about how I have seen the relationship of art and politics evolve during the last 50 years.

In the 1960s, the Vietnam War was like a black curtain hanging behind everything. The cultural scene was one of protest, with marches, sit-ins, teach-ins, tax protests, non-violent and violent confrontations of ideas. Kent State was perhaps the nadir of this time, when the National Guard shot and killed students. People left America for Canada; I was one of those. It was a time when neither side would listen to the complaints of the other; our society was truly divided.

The 1970s saw Watergate go down. This is when Richard Nixon’s dirty tricks were exposed; he had to take responsibility and was impeached. The way this happened was that Robert Redford, a successful actor, paid Washington Post journalists Woodward and Bernstein to research and publish what the administration was up to.

In the artworld, artists of the 1970s were inventing postmodernism, becoming socially conscious, and invading the commercial gallery scene with temporary installations and video. Performance art, too, was entering the mainstream through the bar scene. There was recognition that the artworld was a white place: artists who were white were engendering dialogue through friendship with artists of color; Jenny Holzer’s friendship and collaboration with Lady Pink comes to mind.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected. Although as President of the Screen Actors Guild, he started out as a liberal, after he married Nancy, she persuaded him it was politically smarter to be conservative. He in turn chartered Frank Hodsoll with shutting down the National Endowment for the Arts, the agency put in place by Richard Nixon to fund the arts. In the beginning the NEA and the U.S. Information Agency were seen as a way to project America’s cultural hegemony (Abstract Expressionists had fled Europe as a result of World War II). We were better at art than anyone else, plus Abstract Expressionist art kept its mouth shut. However, when Franklin Furnace tried to send politically explicit artist book works to South America through the U.S. Information Agency, they were rejected. Later, the agency itself was killed off.

Back to Frank Hodsoll: the first thing he did was kill off the NEA’s Critics Fellowships. We, the arts organizations, did not see that the goal would be to kill off artists’ fellowships as well, and later to “professionalize” the art spaces.

The Culture Wars began in the late 1980s with the furor caused by Robert Mapplethorpe’s show, “The Perfect Moment,” as it traveled. Dennis Barrie, Director of the Cincinnati Center for Contemporary Art, lost his job as a result of his decision to take this show containing explicit images of S & M practice. The Culture Wars were fought over sexuality as a legitimate subject of contemporary art. After a lawsuit brought by “the NEA Four” Karen Finley, John Fleck, Holly Hughes and Tim Miller made it all the way to the Supreme Court, the arts community lost—the Court installed “community standards of decency” over artists’ First Amendment right to free expression.

This brings us to the 1990s, and the notion that no tax dollars should be paid for “obscene art.” This decade is when the Internet became widely accessible and artists started looking at surveillance instead of sexuality as the locus of threat. Meanwhile, the locus of the Culture Wars changed too, from art to a more granular and local series of battles over women’s reproductive choice; “balance” of equal numbers of radical and conservative views on university faculties; free speech granted to corporations; and Super Pac money allowed to influence public thought.

As Donald, I represent a beacon of hope for the white working class because I am so rich nobody can buy me. I represent their desire to shake up the binary political system–or just fuck things up. I let the barking dogs of racism, sexism and xenophobia run free. Meanwhile, Republican donors and party leaders are getting behind me because I WON… the nomination. They figure, as in the case of Bush vs. Gore, they can still control the political outcome of my presidency.

(Take off glasses)

Tit for tat and tat for tit
Politics is made of this
You give me this
I’ll give you that
And we’ll both smile

Publicity’s our strategy
And due to public memory
Which lapses so conveniently
In a few years

We can raise a family
No scandal’s bad enough to flee
The United States is still all milk and honey
Toooo meeeeee!

I will make America great again. I will make America hate again. I will make America white again. I have already made politics and performance art one and the same.

Good luck!


Martha Wilson is a pioneering feminist artist and art space director, who over the past four decades created innovative photographic and video works that explore her female subjectivity. She has been described by New York Times critic Holland Cotter as one of “the half-dozen most important people for art in downtown Manhattan in the 1970s.” In 1976 she founded Franklin Furnace, an artist-run space that champions the exploration, promotion and preservation of artist books, temporary installation, performance art, as well as online works. She is represented by P.P.O.W Gallery in New York.


Deborah Kass


Destroyed by the election and have nothing to say about anything yet. Too hard to process the current reality. Other than experiencing sheer terror, incredible sadness, and grief.

Deborah Kass is an artist whose paintings examine the intersection of art history, popular culture and the self. Kass’s work has been shown nationally and internationally. The Andy Warhol Museum presented “Deborah Kass, Before and Happily Ever After, Mid- Career Retrospective” in 2012, accompanied by a catalogue published by Rizzoli. Her monumental sculpture OY/YO located in Brooklyn Bridge Park became an instant icon, appearing on the front page of the New York Times and was a beloved destination in NYC. In 2014, Kass was inducted into the New York Foundation for the Arts Hall of Fame. Kass’s work is represented by the Paul Kasmin Gallery.


Bradley Rubenstein: It’s Not Blood, It’s Red


Dear Susan and Mira,

Thank you so much for inviting me to contribute a thought or two for this, your final issue, of M/E/A/N/I/N/G.

As artists, we come into our practice largely by finding, and in some ways imitating, figures from whom we imagine we might model ourselves. Barnett Newman’s concept of the “citizen artist” has always loomed large for me, and, I believe, his example might have been in your minds when you started M/E/A/N/I/N/G. His writings, letters to editors, and sometimes even his work (Lace Curtain for Mayor Daley, 1968) reflected a mind attuned to both aesthetics and the delicate fabric of society. Of course there are other examples, both historical and contemporary, who saw their work as part of a larger practice. Jacques-Louis David, Eugène Delacroix, Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova, and Ana Mendieta come to mind.

Does the artist occupy a large role in the body politic? It is somewhat paradoxical that, in the age of Twitter and Instagram, media that privilege the image over the printed word, fewer works of art transcend the ocean of random images. Deborah Kass’s Vote Trump (2016) print edition, despite its complex appropriational historical context, remains one of the few iconic visual works from this election cycle to capture the attention of the public; iconic because it combined a complex historically informed sensibility with graphic effect. To be honest there are no other images that come to mind because, I fear, our current academic culture is not developing a student body willing to engage in public discourse, perhaps due to our trigger-warning, microaggression-fearing culture of safe spaces that has begun to privilege isolation and the cult of victimization over political action and social participation. It might be cautionary to remind younger artists that there is a difference between censorship and persecution (like having your press destroyed, or being imprisoned) and merely being actively ignored. There are artists in other countries who could remind us of this difference if only they weren’t busy being tortured at the moment; Iran, for example, doesn’t have many judgement-free zones.

This is not to say that we should just throw up our hands and admit creative failure. Rather, we might take stock of our time and be attentive, and when necessary, active in our role. When you asked me to contribute to your final issue I was unsure of what I might write, draw, or print that would encapsulate the many disparate thoughts that I have regarding art and culture at the moment. A truckload of ideas were sketched out, discarded. I went back to Newman’s letters hoping for some inspiration, direction. In the end I came to realize that sometimes just being present, and supporting one’s fellow artist-citizens when called upon, might be the most important form of resistance there is. If there is one message that we might take away from 30 years of M/E/A/N/I/N/G, it is that “if you can still read this there is hope.”

With best regards,

Bradley Rubenstein

Bradley Rubenstein is a painter and writer who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.


Lenore Malen: What Now?

It was a summer of total anxiety and compulsive poll watching and now shock, despair, fear, along with remorse for what I’ve failed to see and failed to do.

A couple of years ago when politics were as usual I wrote a short essay for the Brooklyn Rail on the subject: “What is Art?” Quoting Leon Golub, I said: “If you are extremely worried about the state of the world and believe that art with its myriad of contradictions can’t stand up to it, think of Golub’s book Do Paintings Bite? in which he writes: “Art retains a residual optimism in the very freedom to tell.”  “Last week one of my students said to me: “Now we have a real reason for making art.”  Yes, but in truth, it is only art.

A hope and a plea: Take action immediately in whatever ways we can, each of us, so that the very worst doesn’t happen here, can’t be normalized, doesn’t last.  At the same time be worried about climate, race relations and other grave divisions here, the tinderbox of the Middle East, North Korea, Britain, France, Turkey, and everywhere — everything at once.  Stay in touch.

I’m very sad to think of this as the last issue of M/E/A/N/I/NG, which, when it began, was the only journal especially devoted to contemporary artists in their studios, and has continued to function as such for so many years. It’s a totally unique publication, not academic, not literary, but rather a voice for practicing visual artists — unedited, uncensored in any way.

Reversal from Lenore Malen on Vimeo. Reversal: The central scene of a 3-channel installation. A United Nations address to the human species by a horse character declaring a list of atrocities exacted on non-human animals by humans.

Lenore Malen uses the lens of history and humor to explore utopian longings, dystopic aftermaths, and the sciences and technologies that inform them. Recently her explorations have focused on ecology, on cultural myths, and on the unstable boundaries between humans and animals. She teaches in the MFA Fine Arts Program at Parsons The New School. Her show Scenes From Paradise will be on view at Studio 10, 56 Bogart St., Bushwick, NY, January 6, 2017–February 5, 2017.


Peter Rostovsky 


Peter Rostovsky, Green Curtain, 2013, 78 x 50 in., oil on linen.

The curtain is a barrier. It demarcates time: the closing of a chapter, the beginning of another. For ancient painters and modern philosophers, it has served as a metaphor for representation—a surface that always promises a depth that is not there. For others, like me, it is perhaps an adequate symbol of this dark moment, that feels like the end, but could be—if we make it so—a new beginning, too. Like many, I lurk on the boundary, stretched over its threshold and balanced on this uncertainty, constantly reviewing the program notes, and guessing the next act.

Peter Rostovsky is a Russian-born artist who works in painting, sculpture, installation, and digital art. His work has been shown in the United States and abroad and has been exhibited at The Walker Art Center, MCA Santa Barbara, PS1/MOMA, Artpace, The Santa Monica Museum of Art, The ICA Philadelphia, the Blanton Museum of Art, S.M.A.K., and private galleries. Rostovsky also writes art criticism under the pen name David Geers. Focusing on the convergence of art, politics and technology, his writing has appeared in October, Fillip, Bomb, The Third Rail Quarterly, The Brooklyn Rail and Frieze.


Further installments of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking will appear here every other day. Contributors will include Alexandria Smith, Altoon Sultan, Ann McCoy, Aziz+Cucher, Aviva Rahmani, Bailey Doogan, Erica Hunt, Faith Wilding, Hermine Ford, Jennifer Bartlett, Jenny Perlin, Joy Garnett and Bill Jones, Joyce Kozloff, Judith Linhares, Julie Harrison, Kat Griefen, Kate Gilmore, Legacy Russell, LigoranoReeese, Mary Garrard, Maureen Connor, Michelle Jaffé, Mimi Gross, Myrel Chernick, Noah Dillon, Noah Fischer,  LigoranoReese, Rachel Owens, Robert C. Morgan, Robin Mitchell, Roger Denson, Susanna Heller, Suzy Spence, Tamara Gonzalez and Chris Martin, Susan Bee, Mira Schor, and more. If you are interested in this series and don’t want to miss any of it, please subscribe to A Year of Positive Thinking during this period, by clicking on subscribe at the upper right of the blog online, making sure to verify your email when prompted.

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A History
We published 20 print issues biannually over ten years from 1986-1996. In 2000, M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Theory, and Criticism was published by Duke University Press. In 2002 we began to publish M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online and have published six online issues. Issue #6 is a link to the digital reissue of all of the original twenty hard copy issues of the journal. The M/E/A/N/I/N/G archive from 1986 to 2002 is in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University.


Notes on a Tribunal

Combatant Status Review Tribunals pp. 002954-003064: A Public Reading is a two-day presentation at MoMA, today Saturday November 12 and tomorrow Sunday November 13, of a four-hour reading of transcripts from Combatant Status Review Tribunals held at the United States military prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2004-2005, excerpted from a collection of transcripts released online by the US Department of Defense. This event, organized by the artists Andrea Geyer, Sharon Hayes, Ashley Hunt, Katya Sander, and David Thorne, with the participation of readers,  is a really interesting way of being exposed to and absorbing some of the complex meanings of political events that have taken place under conditions of secrecy, though “in our name,” at least for citizens of the United States.

The reading is very effectively situated in the museum in a transitional space, on one of the vestigial landings of the old (or what I would call the pentimento) of the original MoMA Bauhaus-style staircase and tantalizingly near the exit (no entrance) glass doors leading to what at least today was a member’s preview to the exhibition of Diego Rivera murals. I felt strongly that Rivera would understand, he would approve–and most likely he would depict, in a boldly yet delicately drawn and painted fresco, the scene in front of him: the restrained visuals of political theater staged with readers representing presiding military officers, a recorder, the detainee, the “Personal Representative” of the detainee, all sitting around four tables set into a square surrounded by the museum audience, on rows of chair set behind the tables, as well as seated on the staircase, intent on listening while trying to tune out the noise of the crowded museum. Rivera would paint this crowd scene, perhaps providing an identificatory cartouche of the double identity of each reader: Official questioner>art historian Yve-Alain Bois, detainee Personal Representative>actress and playwright Anna Deveare Smith, (two of the readers when I was there). I’m not sure if the artists would have preferred a more advantageous setting, quieter, and larger with more room for an audience, as in the situation evidently afforded it at documenta12 as pictured on MoMA’s website for this piece:

Andrea Geyer, Sharon Hayes, Ashley Hunt, Katya Sander, David Thorne. Combatant Status Review Tribunals pp.002954–003064: A Public Reading. 2007. Performed at Documenta12, 2007. © the artists

However I think the current site is perfect: so much better to “occupy” and reanimate the ghost of MoMA’s history within the confines of MoMA’s current physical and symbolic status as one of the Department of Defense-like corporate behemoths of the international art industry.

Image from today's reading photographed and uploaded to Facebook by Andrea Geyer

The moment that I experienced in a short time attending this performance today offered some perspectives I had not expected. Given what is known of the way these hearings were conducted, one assumes that the readings are meant to expose the lack of transparency of the entire situation of capture, imprisonment, treatment, and legal practices as well as the seeming randomness of who ended up at Gitmo, with the fact of the impropriety of these tribunals according to military and treaty law creating the implication that all such captives are innocent. However as the proceedings I happened to witness at the reading today progressed, the narrative went from the detainee’s assertion of innocence to a close questioning by the military officials as to how, as a self-stated simple humble “worker,” he had managed to support his family in Yemen while traveling for months and on a number of occasions between Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan, where he was captured, while doing or not doing undefined jobs here and there. This lack of conclusiveness, this seed of doubt as to the veracity of the detainee, and the lack of conclusion, at least in the performance of the transcripts, as to the final determination of this detainee’s status, created a more ambiguous and complex political narrative than I had expected to experience.

9 Scripts from a Nation at War, a multichannel video installation by the same artists, Geyer, Hayes, Hunt, and Thorne will be shown at MoMA from January 24 to July 30, 2012. But participation through presence is a politically enriching act: the readings from Combatant Status Review Tribunals pp. 002954-003064 will take place again tomorrow at the museum from 12 to 4, on the second floor (free if you go to information desk and say you had done a RSVP).



Looking for art to love, MoMA: A Tale of Two Egos

It’s weird, I wanted to write about a moment of inspiration and instigation I felt in front of one of William Kentridge’s films but for the moment Marina has crowded him out. It’s rare that a woman’s ego trumps a man’s, particularly in the context of one-person retrospectives in a major museum. My title therefore was first intended to highlight the battle for attention between two major artists. But, as this blurred picture suggests, that battle has been won.

Marina and William

But Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present is itself a tale of two egos: downstairs, that of the individual living woman whose body you can witness and potentially engage with at some level, and, upstairs, the projected ego of the woman who has hijacked curatorial common sense, whose many incarnations are screaming at you in an unpardonably cacophonous, unedited installation, who has created a kind of Disneyworld of the Spanish Inquisition through her use of re-enactors in stressful situations while rewriting the history of performance art so that she exists sui generis, without any historical context.

I plan to stay downstairs with the living woman but the wall of noise that hit me at the door of the first room in the upstairs show, the trembling naked re-enactors, and the lack of historical contextualization in the wall text will stay with me as well. I will continue to wonder why the museum has not provided visitors with any information about international performance artworks that would seem to be of immediate relevance to this work, from contemporary women performance artists such as Gina Pane and Valie Export, and Action artists such as Herman Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. The tableaux vivant re-enactment of Nude with Skeleton (2002-2005) is for me haunted by Frida Kahlo’s The Dream (or the Bed) (1940). Women artists, nudity, and pain are recurring thematics of feminist art as well as personal obsessions of individual performers. It would be useful to offer that context even if Marina denies it.

Frida Kahlo, The Dream or The Bed, 1940

Even before you get up to the level of the spectacle taking place in the square arena marked by a line of the floor, guards, warning signs, and four stands of film lights, the bright white light from the atrium is already beautiful and enticing seen from the lobby below:

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, from the lobby MoMA May 2010

The first time I went to see the show, April 29, there was still a table installed between Abramovic and those sitting opposite her. I was with Susan Bee. We have seen many exhibitions together over many years and I always value her insights. We circled the square, surveying Marina from all sides — oops, I’ve lapsed into something that is against the rules of scholarly writing: you do not refer to artists by their first name, you do not talk about what “Pablo” was doing in Guernica, but I’ve noticed that a lot of women artists and art historians, whether they know — Marina — personally or not, are referring to her by her first name, sort as if it was her only name, like Cher or Madonna.

I found some of the visuals distracting, especially Marina’s red ecclesiastical garment, which one friend has compared to one of those snuggies, the blankets with sleeves advertised on TV. Many women viewers are concerned about how Marina pees: one artist is absolutely persuaded that the (I’m told it’s a Prada) dress is designed like an astronaut’ s suit with special receptacle panels and some catherization going on in there, another is as certain that she pees into the chair (if you visualize this in further detail it would mean there’s a big hole cut out of the back of her dress, which somehow I doubt).

Nevertheless as we circled the scene with interest, Susan’s comment, after a short while, that  “it’s sort of dignified in a way” echoed my own thoughts: perhaps we had come with a bit of snarky attitude about the hype surrounding the show and were surprised at our response once we were standing there (we did not chose to sit and in any case would never have made the effort to get there early enough or pulled enough strings to score a privileged spot at the head of the list to face Marina).

There is something hypnotically appealing about the whole scene, the lights, the square, the faces of both participants,  the strange shift between proximity to and distance from the two seated figures — it may be an optical illusion but you definitely feel closer to the figures and see the details of their faces and skin in better focus from the South side of the square even though the chairs appear to be centered. The hypnotic atmosphere must also emanate from the artist who is presumably present, intent on each viewer — that is after all the premise of the work —  yet undoubtedly self-hypnotized.

I’m not sure she is responding to the viewers any more intimately than Queen Elizabeth on a receiving line — if anything, the Queen may feel more duty bound to work a display of connection. Yet Marina’s face has a melting blankness which is quite fascinating and there must inevitably be a mirroring that takes place when two beings face each other for any length of time in silence.

This week the scene was visually reduced: the ecclesiastical garment is white  and the table is gone, which exposed both participants to each other and the audience. Since photography is forbidden despite (or because of) the fact that the whole thing is a photo-shoot set, I did a quick sketch of the scene:

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, seen from the North side of the atrium MoMA May 6, 2010

I’m amused that the artist’s effort to control documentation of her work forced me to turn to that old representational technology, drawing. And through the act of drawing, I experienced a strange apprehension of the scene, a perception that I might not have had if I had just held my camera up and waved it in the general direction of the subject. As I drew, I felt that I recognized a familiar form, something about the white dress, the slumping body, the prominent nose:

Jacques-Louis David, sketch of Marie Antoinette on the way to the Guillotine, October 16, 1793

I was not sure of the orientation of Marie-Antoinette’s face in the David drawing until I got home, but meanwhile I walked around the room to draw the scene from the other side.

Mira Schor, sketch of Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, from the South of the Atrium, MOMA, May 6, 2010

I draw no meaning from this coincidental resemblance between an exhausted looking Marina and a doomed Marie-Antoinette although there is certainly a generous dose of violent martyrdom on view in the work exhibited upstairs! If, despite the self-hagiographic-monarchical-ecclesiastical set-up of The Artist is Present, there is “something dignified” about Marina’s effort not to fall asleep in her chair and keel over, and something eerily pleasant in wandering around a light flooded public square, I don’t feel there is anything either dignified or interestingly desublimated about the spectacle of a woman pinned high on a spotlit wall, balanced on a bicycle seat, her arms held up in a pose of crucifixion, trembling with pain.


Meanwhile in the back room … see my next post about Kentridge and creativity.