June 11, 2010  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions, Tech
Analyzing Abramović

As is the case with most Web designers, producers, and graphic designers, I have an unhealthy attraction to infographics, whether it be the work of the Almighty Edward Tufte, the non-stop hit factory of The New York Times (here’s my all-time favorite), or the rich annual reports of Nicholas Feltron. There are also several works in MoMA’s collection that explore ways of displaying data, including Langlands & Bell’s Air Routes of the World (Day & Night) (2001), as well as many of the pieces from the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition, as explained in this video by Paola Antonelli.

So you can imagine how excited I was when we received the photos of sitters from Marina Abramović’s The Artist Is Present performance and discovered that installation photographer Marco Anelli had been keeping an unofficial minutes-per-participant tally. On a long car ride I decided to compile these and chart out some of the basic information, as suggested by Jason Kottke. They’re nowhere near as beautiful as some of the above examples and the data represented is unofficial and not properly analyzed or fact-checked, but with those caveats, here’s something fun to peek at for a Friday afternoon. (Forgive me, Mr. Tufte, for breaking almost all of your rules.)

The Basics
The average number of sitters per day was twenty-one; the highest number of sitters on one day was sixty, and the minimum was one (Paco, naturally). The average number of minutes per sitter per day was twenty-one, with the maximum of 420. The unofficial total for the number of sitters was 1,545. (Click on any of the charts for a larger version. Blank spaces in the data represent Tuesdays, when the Museum was closed.)

Number of Sitters by Date
Sitters by date

Sitters by Duration and Date
For each date, individual sitters are represented by a colored vertical bar, and that bar’s length represents their sitting time. The first sitter of each day is at the bottom of the chart, and the last is at the top.
Sitters by duration and date

Count of Sitters by Duration
Number of minutes (horizontal) and number of sitters (vertical) (not including individual sitters of 207, 236, 292, 293, 386, 391, and 420 minutes)
Count of sitters by minute total

Comparison of Sitters versus Average Duration, by Date
Number of sitters versus average duration


Um, this is awesome.
I love that charts and graphs and such are in vogue right now…sexy! You need a chart quantifying tears shed, though.

How moving to witness the performance’s impact. The greatness in art becomes more evident in relation to people’s reaction.

so awesome, plus you beat me to it. I’ve been playing with this data using the Flickr API, and it’s kind of fascinating.

One thing I wonder about is an average sitting time over time. It seems like early in the piece, sitting time were generally short, rarely going more than 10-20 minutes. But once a few people did extended [40-60m+] sittings, the average grew.

Another thing to do: look at gender differences. It seems to me that Paco notwithstanding, the longer sitters are more likely to be women. Maybe MoMA can throw some interns at the data and ID all the sitters’ genders.

I look forward to seeing this in PowerPoint…

> You need a chart quantifying tears shed, though.


Very cool, I was thinking about doing this as soon as I had the time. I wrote a script that grabbed the minutes sat. and participant info via the Flickr page, and I created two arrangements:

Top 200 popular sitters by Flickr page views:

Longest sits:

Thanks for the comments!

– Amy, yes, I was hoping to also do some more fun ones like “count of moustaches” but real work intervened.
– Greg, yes, the gender balance seemed very much skewed female. I started to do a count but realized that gender assumptions based on portraits could be inaccurate. Also, I agree that the “average” time is somewhat misleading graphically.
– Great stuff Dan! Thanks for sharing. I especially love the phrase “time hogs”.

Great! thanks for these tabulations and illustrations. Most fascinating.

Second that. My understanding is that only sitters who have signed an agreement had their portrait posted- hopefully Marco made the raw counts available to you. Otherwise the stats would be biased – one possible explanation for the overwhelming majority of sitter’s portraits being of women may well be that they are far more likely to agree, men being more cagey/ careful. Or I may be completely wrong on that – but this seems to be the trend on flickr for example, where many more women than men publish SP’s (self portraits).

I disagree somewhat with that – it may be true of some, but there is no real way to judge who was or not “hogging” time. I would consider “hogging” as real “hogging” if the sitter was not benefitting much himself from the prolonged sitting. Besides setting a meaningless endurance record. For instance, even though Paco did take a lot of sitting time, I have no doubt that he did benefit a lot from it – and Marina herself must have sensed it – she certainly was happy for him doing what he did. So I would definitely not call him a “hogger”. Possibly sitter 62/22 might have been one real “hogger” – this being based on my observation when I was there in person.

How is one to judge the balance of ” sitting benefits” benefits though? A lot of tiny ones for a lot of people or many significant ones for as many as possible, where “significant” is some appropriate level? Who is to say if someone who started on a meaningless record setting mission might suddenly change and become influenced in a meaningful way and so become a “non hogger”?

I did notice that Marina had the choice of “ejecting” whomever she wanted, including via small signalling with the guards. True to the original character of the piece she kept the performance’s parameters open – within some limits of course.

I would write more here, but don’t want to “hog” your comment space Besides, I have written and linked all I wanted on my page at

PS. Final thought: I hope the raw sitting data will be made publicly available, more heads looking at these might produce more interesting gems.

What happened to the flickr portraits?

I am Japanese at Kumamoto city.
I watched your work of art \”Shoes for Departure\”
at Contemporary Art Museum,Kumamoto.
I want to go on a trip because of your work.
thank you.

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