Visitor Viewpoint: Marina Abramović

Installation view of Marina Abramović’s performance The Artist Is Present at The Museum of Modern Art, 2010. Photo by Scott Rudd. For her longest solo piece to date, Abramović sits in silence at a table in the Museum’s Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium during public hours, passively inviting visitors to take the seat across from her for as long as they choose within the timeframe of the Museum’s hours of operation. Although she will not respond, participation by Museum visitors completes the piece and allows them to have a personal experience with the artist and the artwork. © 2010 Marina Abramović. Courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

We asked a number of visitors to Marina Abramović’s performance retrospective, The Artist Is Present, to share their impressions with us. Visitor participation is central to this exhibition—Abramović’s own performance for the show asks visitors to come sit with her and essentially become a part of the performance piece, while the “reperformances” in the sixth-floor galleries turn viewers into spectators and confront them in a way art objects never could. We wanted to hear from visitors about their experiences with these works.

Daviel Shy waiting in line for The Artist Is Present. Photo by Julia Kaganskiy

Daviel Shy, artist, back for her second sitting with Marina Abramović:

What was it like to sit with Marina?

It was kind of like being out of time. Just really interesting and filled with different emotions that change the longer you sit there.

How long did you sit for?

I wasn’t keeping track, but they said it was something like an hour and forty-five minutes. But it didn’t feel like a long time.

What did it feel like when you were sitting there? What were you thinking about?

I was thinking about different things but I kept trying to think about the title of the piece, The Artist Is Present, and just be present. But it was cool to watch her too because I would watch her shift slightly—whether she seemed like she was losing her presence, or totally looking into me, or just focusing in general, or kind of communicating in how we were breathing, or other tiny things. It was so varied and so interesting that it was really hard to leave.

So you could feel a kind of energy?

I was focusing so hard I was exhausted by the end of it. Your body is working so hard from being still or trying to be still. It’s just something I’ve never experienced before. It’s not like meditation because you’re with somebody else and you’re both looking at each other.

Bruce Hermann outside The Artist Is Present exhibition galleries. Photo by Julia Kaganskiy

Bruce Hermann, professor of theater at Texas Tech University:

How did you enjoy the exhibition?

I’m not sure I enjoyed it in the sense of giving me joy, but it was very revealing and interesting. I wasn’t entirely familiar with her work, especially through the 1970s. I’m always looking for performance that reveals who we are as humans, and this is such a different take. This struck me as so difficult… there was a revelation on a very deep level that I wasn’t expecting when I came in. I’m almost fatigued after seeing it. You’re drawn in by watching people stand or sit or do things to themselves or each other, and after a period of time I found myself going to a subconscious place, rather than being able to analyze it intellectually. I feel like, even in describing it now, my words are not sufficient.

Was there any work in particular that really struck you? Can you pinpoint the moment of your revelation?

I was standing in front of the bones [Balkan Baroque], and I happened to walk in at a moment when [Abramović] was dancing [on video], and the juxtaposition of these two images was jarring at first. Then, seeing the pictures of her parents, it all starts to connect and relate on an ancestral and ritual level. It moved me. I started to smell the bones, and that, juxtaposed with her starting to dance with this red scarf, was kind of profound.

So after having this moment of revelation, do you walk out of here somehow different?

I’m not sure. Isn’t that why we see all art? To have something be shifted, perhaps test new systems of belief, go through a point in the journey where we shed everyday identities and connect to something, just for a moment, that I perhaps wasn’t aware was inside of me, or something that I’m receiving from the artist? You don’t know where that’s going to happen, and I’m not sure what the upshot will be when I walk out the door.


Great that this is up now!
Before there were comments on the blog re. Live-Stream …
My observations posted there … on 3/27:
I was so skeptical about this exhibition … but now I am slowly getting obsessed wit Marina A. – not so much the 6th floor re-enactments – but her performance I find quite powerful in the absolute connection, though almost invisible, with the visitors in the atrium – I have spent hours ‘eavesdropping’, and watching and observing the returning participants … it’s very moving, and very funny at times too!
re. the live-stream : … it’s fascinating too – and feeds the curiosity and ‘obsession’ … going to the museum and being there is of course the whole point … but for the other hours of the day…

Saturday … end of Museum Hours … Wow, you guys cut off before the participant person even left … and this was the amazing ‘double’, the Blue Girl as I called her all day, checking randomly and then more and more intrigued … and yes, still she was sitting there with Marina … so she did it?! almost all day?! Amazing!
PS. the ‘Dance of the Feet’ in the upper part of the camera frame kept me quite amused too … not so much though the folks sitting and playing with their phones instead of being there to be with the art /performance …
Thanks MoMA … being present and being virtually ‘present’ .. very intriguing!

A quote came up today that seemed very poignant in regards to Marina Abramovic’s performance:

from: Andrew Olendzki, “The Ties That Unbind” (Tricycle, 2007)

Mindfulness practice offers the restraint necessary to overcome the tug of desire upon the senses. As we notice the mind wandering off to explore a gratifying train of thought, or as we notice the body’s urging to nudge ourselves into a more comfortable position, we gently abandon the impulse and return attention to the primary object of awareness. We do this again and again, until the mind becomes content with being fully present with what is manifesting here and now in the field of experience, rather than rushing off for some other form of stimulation. As the mind settles down it becomes considerably more powerful, and thus more empowered.
– Andrew Olendzki, “The Ties That Unbind”

It’s nice to have a place for the visitor POV, since Abramovic is so clear that her work would not exist without the public. I do have a question, about the lines on the wall in the back: who marks off the days? and does that happen at the end of each day that she sits?

More Questions:
– will there be a record at the end of the exhibit/performance about how many people sat with Marina Abramovic ?
– the change of color in dress, just random, at specific points in the performance ?
– will there be more reaction interviews ?

Marina Abramović = TruLy a goDDeSS oF thE aRtz!!!
i cOMe tO thE LiVe StreaM seVeraL tiMes a DaY anD/foR jusT tO MediTaTe..
Sooooo maNy thoughT cOMe to MiNd aBouT the MeaNinG oF arT/LiFe…
ThiS worK taKes mE straighT tO inFiNiTy\+ beyoNd!
iF i liVed withiN 500 Mi. i wouLd paY PersonaL HoMage aNd worshiP aT heR FeeT…

Hi Ulla,

Thanks for your questions and comments! Let me answer them in the order they appeared:

– Will there be a record at the end of the exhibition about how many people sat with Marina Abramović ?
Answer: Marina’s photographer, Marco Anelli, is keeping track of the duration of each participant. So yes, a record is being kept of how many visitors sit per day, and for how long.

– What is the change in color of dress based on? Is it random, or does it change at specific points during the exhibition?
Answer: There are three dresses in total, one per month: A red dress, a blue dress, and a white dress. Marina’s choices are based on energy. For the opening of the exhibition, she chose the bright red dress. For the rest of March, the first month, she wore the meditative, deep blue dress. In April to gain new energy because of the increasing difficulty of the performance, she has chosen the red dress. For May, Marina will wear a white dress to achieve a calm state for her final month of performing.

– Will there be more reaction interviews?
Would you like some more reaction interviews? I’d be happy to do some more. I really enjoy talking to visitors about their experiences.

Hi Nina,

Thanks for your question! I’m glad you enjoyed reading about the visitors’ experiences with the show.

Regarding your question, Marina crosses off each day herself to reflect the passage of time.

Dear Julia … thank you so much for your answers!
I had an inkling about the dress colors, but this really explains it movingly!
And yes, visitor’s reactions are so important with this performance, if you can do some more that would be fun …

I have been visiting about twice a week (love that membership…), and often listen or talk to the people waiting in line, or after getting up from the experience … Actually, I have been writing about it … may post that at some time …
It seems strange that there are not more ‘visitors’ to these blogs though … Keep up the good work! Many Thanks, Ulla

I visited the MoMA earlier this week. A highlight of my visit to the gallery and to the city, in general was to witness the exhibition, “The Artist is Present”.

I took the opportunity to sit in meditation several times, as I felt myself drawn to the unique space and feeling that viewing the exhibition gave me. It was deeply meditative and reminded me of some of the exercises (such as eye-gazing that I did during my yoga studies).

I found Marina conveyed such a non-judgmental and accepting attitude. She embodied a welcoming presence that drew not only the person on the other side of the table, but all who were viewing the exhibit at the time.

The performance pieces of the entire retrospective have touched me deeply and will stay with me a very long time.

Thank you for your courageous presence and pieces of work that you have created, Marina!

Kurt S.

Thanks very much for this blog entry. I agree with the earlier comment that visitor reaction is an integral part of this exhibit, and it’s nice to see it highlighted here. (I’d love to see more interviews.) I too wish that there were more visitors/commenters here. I followed the link to this “Inside/Out” blog at the bottom of the MoMA home page, but is there a link directly from the “Artist is Present” page?

When visiting the installations, after a while I turned away from the exhibits themselves to focus on the response of other visitors. (There’s quite a range.) I find it fascinating—esp. the reactions to the live re-performances.

The re-performers themselves are amazing to me. I envy them: both their ability to do what they do and the opportunity of doing this. I feel they are giving us a great gift by sharing their vulnerability and humanity with us (day after day and hour after hour!) and allowing us to confront our own feelings about this. The gift is all the greater for the fact that (unlike in Marina’s piece on the 2nd floor), here the “donors” are essentially anonymous. Although some of the performances are of course deliberately provocative, what’s most interesting to me is that they also seem profoundly meditative. I’d love to know more about all the re-performers’ thoughts on and experiences with the exhibition. (I thought I noticed tears in the eyes of two re-performers of “Nude with Skeleton.” Could that be? If so, what was that about?) It would be interesting to know whether responses of the performers are basically similar or whether they’re as varied as the responses of visitors. How do they maintain mindfulness and stay present in the midst of such hullaballoo? What hurdles have they had to overcome or problems have they had to solve and how did they do it? What are their favorites of these performance pieces to do and why? What, if any, artistic/spiritual connection with visitors do they hope to make?

What a fascinating exhibition. Kudos to Marina Abramovic and to MoMA.

i visited the MoMA today and saw the marina abramovic exhibit, and i was blown away by it. i think it is the best exhibit i have ever seen at MoMA. i fond marina and the performers to be profoundly moving, and i genuinely felt like i was participating in something momentous. i am drawn to return… and to sit with her…. but i have a question…
what rules are there concerning sitting with marina in the atrium? are the any? can i turn my back on her? can i wear a pair of silly sunglasses? can i lift may arms in a christlike pose? can i wear weird contact lenses? can i turn the chair to the side?
it seemed like there were no rules – i didn’t see any – but i was intrigued by the fact that everybody acts as though the rule states that you must sit still and stare back at marina immobile.
are there rules?

You wait for a very long time on a long line. I consider abandoning the task, because I never wait on line, certainly not for an hour, which stretches into two. Is this worth the time investment? Is anything worth this time investment? I try to stay in the moment while I wait, but it is hard. I alternate between engagement and boredom. (Is that the intent?) I mostly watch, but occasionally read the NY Times on my blackberry. I notice that the light has changed on her cheek, and I realize that she has cried.

The person ahead of me is called, and I am next. Suddenly, I am nervous and start to ask myself questions that did not occur to me during the first two hours. What will I think about while I sit? What will I “talk” about? Will she cry for me? Will I be worthy of the moment? Should I have “come as you are,” or should I have somehow dressed for the occasion? I consider abandoning the effort, but decide to remain and wait my turn. I decide that I will take off my glasses at some point while I am sitting there. Should I invade the neutral space by placing them on the table, or hold them in my hands? How long will I sit? How long should I sit?

The person ahead of me gets up, turns and walks toward me out into the museum. The artist puts her head down and closes her eyes, as she has with each person who came before. The guard makes small talk for a bit, then tells me, “Avoid doing anything erotic and you’ll do fine,” and lets me in.

I walk to the middle of the room, sit down and stare at the artist. I try to block out everything but Marina Abramovic. She looks up. I start with the obvious question about whether this is art and why. I think of the common saying that art only becomes art through the eyes of the viewer. Never is this more true than in this self portrait by Marina Abramovic. I think about the great paintings in this museum that I have been visiting for forty years…Pollack, deKooning, Picasso, Matisse, Rothko, Duchamp, Cezanne, van Gogh…that have shaped my inner life in so many ways, and how much sitting here in front of Marina is the same but very different. It takes far more courage for the artist to sit here than to let a painting be hung on a wall, as brave as that is, and more courage to sit in front of Marina than to sit in front of a canvas, as hard as that can be. And there is no escaping that my presence completes the art, which makes me appreciate even more how my presence and the presence of everyone else completes the Pollacks and the deKoonings.

Five minutes or so have passed, and I think about leaving, but decide that I have not given the art enough time. I stay. I think about how my grandparents also came from Eastern Europe, and how Marina and I share that in common. The din of the world outside the square fades to a din, and I enter a meditative state that I have never before achieved. After a bit, the sound of the outside world returns, and the engagement becomes a little less intense (at least for me). I take off my glasses and decide to hold them in my hand. The longer I sit staring at Marina, the more beautiful she seems (have I violated the guard’s admonition?). We continue to stare at each other, and finally it seems like it is time to go. I worry that it will seem rude to Marina, like I am saying that she has nothing more to say, that however long it has been is all she is worth. I sit a bit longer, and decide that while I could continue to sit, the time has come to leave.

I stand, turn from the table and walk back outside the square. I am drained, and marvel at the intensity of the experience, which is unlike any other engagement with art that I have ever had.

I too am interested in hearing the respose. Are there rules? Must you sit still and quiet? I believe it is just one person in the “square” at a time though. Has anyone brought anything to put on the table while they sat there?

A volunteer told me that one day during the exhibit a woman came to sit with Marina and she dressed exactly like Marina.

Is there a location that visitors can leave messages for Marina? or maybe you can leave a written note on the table?

I saw the Marina and the exhibit on Saturday and have found myself thinking about it more and more. At first I thought it was strange (Who would want to sit there?) but now I feel myself compelled to revisit to participate and experience this myself. Falling asleep in bed the second night after seeing Marina I am thinking…I must return and sit across from Marina. I would even be interested (odd as it sounds) to lay under the skeleton for a session. It is only something I thought about after dwelling on her intention for the piece.

Visitors who quickly pass through the exhibit, think it weird and dismiss it are completely missing the entire point. It is really something to dwell on…ponder…experience.

Why doesn’t the guest get a cushion too?

I stopped by the museum after work and found out that visitors who sit with Marina must remain quiet and do nothing. When people have tried to do anything they were asked to leave (escorted out) by the guards. The volunteer at the front desk said the reason is that this is Marina’s performance art and not that of others trying to impose their performance art within hers.

I saw the exhibit two weeks ago and can’t stop thinking about it. I did not sit with Marina myself, though.

I am finding the “portraits” posted here incredibly moving. There is something sort of naked and honest that is coming through on people’s faces. You don’t see that much in everyday life.

@Michael and @Brian B

Thanks for your questions! All of Marina’s performances are based on a set of instructions. The artist envisions this particular work within minimalist parameters. She has described The Artist Is Present as “a film set where nothing happens,” and a visualization of the idea of “form as emptiness” or “emptiness as form.” To this end, visitors are invited to participate in this artwork only by silently sitting across from the artist. Anything that interferes with the artist’s ability to make eye contact with the visitor is not allowed. The chair may not be moved.

I wonder if you can comment on MOMA’s decision on having the VIP’s sit with Marina A. before visitors at the beginning of the day instead of them being amongst the fold of first come first serve.

Any chance her discussion on June 3rd will be taped and able to be viewed? I would love to hear this.

where is the table? why is it gone?

Viva Marina!

There is an interesting reworking of this piece by Abramovic by British artist Michael Stokes.

An image is online at

Stokes piece is image-based. It reveals himself, sitting opposite an empty chair. Another image is adjacent to this one, though in this one, the artist is not present. His piece clearly outlines the conundrum Abramic put her viewers into by having them form queues to see her. Stokes piece is titled ‘Waiting for Marina’, and seems to liberate the viewer by reiterating the shared experience of having to wait.

It could be argued that Abramovic had set up a role for herself in the gallery as a living monument where viewers came to pay homage. For this reason, Stokes piece is interesting because it offers a more accurate version of reality, that of the physical castration or limit of the body. The second photo in Stokes piece also points towards the idea that the artist cannot be omnipresent, as perhaps Abramovic seems to act out in her performance.

These question is really simple and in a certain way out of context, but i am curious: who is responsable for Abramovic´s dresses?, was each of it designed for the performance by herself, or by a designer, or how?

I must live under a rock, I had seen moments of her pieces before but never given her my full attention.
I was profoundly moved by the documentary & in the end like many of the participants, in tears. Are any of the live streams still online? I would love to spend some more time with her.

Yes, I’d also like to know who made the dress. Will the designer ever be acknowledged or is this untold secrets in the world of art. I can’t imagine she made them herself. Did she make them all herself?

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