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.