Art vs. celebrity

Marina Abramovic

Marina Abramovic

Contemporary art so often makes me pleased that the greatest existential questions I face as an artist often come down to: “Do I dare to paint a peach?” This is a nicely balanced story about a performance artist who is something like a less-ironic Warhol for our time, and it appeared on the front page of the Sunday New York Times waiting for me this morning in my driveway. Simply reading a story about any visual artist, let alone a performance artist, on the front page of the Times is like sighting a rare bird, so it’s quite an achievement in celebrity, but it’s hard to read the story without laughing both appreciatively and, more often, whilst shaking one’s head. It’s occasioned by Abramovic’s intent to build an institute for mind-and-body-cleansing in Hudson (where David Byrne said he might move to join the “expat hipsters” fleeing New York City). Here are some choice moments in the story:

Mistrustful and possibly envious, some performance artists and critics are accusing Ms. Abramovic of cultivating something suspiciously like a cult of personality. She seems so enamored of the spotlight, they say — so caught up in dancing with Jay-Z, doing mind-cleansing exercises with Lady Gaga and hanging out with James Franco — that she is in danger of disappearing down the rabbit hole of her own mythology, betraying not only her own roots but also, perhaps, the true nature of performance art itself.

“I respect Marina a lot in the overall sense, but I think the art world has lost its mind,” said Amelia Jones, a professor of art history at McGill University. “I keep wondering what’s next — is she going to set up her own small country somewhere?”

Marina: “Now I understand that my work is not my work anymore. It’s about culture in general, about changing the consciousness of human beings on this planet.”

In conversation, she leans in close and speaks with an intimate urgency, her voice a low, soft, Slavic-accented purr that brings to mind both Christiane Amanpour and Natasha the Eastern Bloc cartoon spy.

“One idea is to take 250 drops of blood of the most important human beings on this planet who contribute to humanity — in science, technology, writers, filmmakers, whatever,” she said. Once a year, “the most important shaman of that century,” she explained, would energize the blood drops, using the “life force” that connects body to blood.

As she says, the possibilities are endless.

 Endless possibilities. Yes. It’s been a great opportunity and a great curse of art for more than half a century, hasn’t it?

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