Marina Abramovi?: The Artist Is Present

Marina Abramovi?: The Artist Is Present, seek the new HBO documentary by Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre, ailment chronicles Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovi?’s 2010 MoMA retrospective ? the ultimate rite of passage into the canon for modern artists.

Like so many recently released independent documentaries, the film is geared more toward celebration than biography or critical inquiry. At times, I felt like I was watching a promotional video.

While there isn’t much biographical information, there are quick blurbs of Abramovi?’s closest colleagues discussing the broad concepts in her art, lots of Abramovi?  getting dressed, her assistant answering phone calls, everyone getting in and out of cars, and so on. Sometimes I wonder if reality television is starting to leave its mark on documentary filmmaking.

The segment documenting the history and reunification of Abramovi? and her one time performance partner and lover, Uwe (or Olay) Laysiepen, is compassionate and touching. Laysiepen is candid and emotive when he discusses his bittersweet feelings towards Abramovi?, the immense shadow of her current career, and their working history. After a long period of estrangement, they’re finally meeting to talk.

There’s a moment when Abramovi? is cooking zucchini that’s wonderfully banal and “everyday”, and provides a break from artist-and-curator-speak. I think it behooves all artists to make sure there’s a shot in their documentary of them cooking dinner or digging through their purse for a water bottle.

The film primarily orbits around her 736-hour performance piece, The Artist Is Present, in which Abramovi? sits immobile in a chair six days a week for seven hours in the gallery. Museum-goers flock to sit across from her as they stare into each other’s eyes. It becomes sensational and starts to catch on. People return time and time again to be in the presence of Abramovi?; some return 20 times or more.

Lots of people cry (the experience has already been meme-ified on a blog that posts the faces of everyone who cries at the exhibit), but the most touching moment is Laysiepen offering his hands to Abramovi?, which she takes, symbolically sealing their reconciliation and deliberately and heartrendingly breaking the immobility of the piece.

Marina Abramovi? is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and Marina Abramovi?: The Artist Is Present is a sincere celebration of her work.

Joseph Wozny is a writer and musician.

Marina Abramovi?: The Artist Is Present
Oct 7, 5 p. m.
October 13, 1 p. m.
October 14, 5 p. m.