Marina Abramovic and Ulay, “Relation in Time,” 1977. Still from 16mm film transferred to video. (Photo: Marina Abramovic, Sean Kelly Gallery/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

Caught in the ambient glow of overhead light fixtures, two figures sit staring at each other across a table. One of the figures is dressed in a long, flowing red gown reminiscent of clerical wear. The other is weeping inconsolably. For a moment, the world is theatrically halted, slowed to the pulse of dual heartbeats. Looking away quickly from the reverie on display, one acknowledges the frame: the cameras and the awaiting queue to the shrine in the Museum of Modern Art’s atrium, where Marina Abramovic is sitting for 716 hours and 30 minutes for her new durational work, The Artist is Present, as members of the public take turns courting her — and challenging her — with their gaze.

The already notorious performance is part of the first full-scale retrospective of a performance artist ever organized at MoMA, spanning four decades of Abramovic’s prolific and demanding practice, from her early ‘70s conceptual and sometimes death-defying “Rhythm” works through her collaborations with former partner and lover Ulay to Seven Easy Pieces, her 2005 Guggenheim restaging of seminal performance works by Joseph Beuys, Vito Acconci, and herself. Interspersed throughout the exhibit are reproduced versions of Abramovic’s key works, presented by a host of often naked people she has trained to perform her work.


Mark Beasley