Visitor Viewpoint: MoMA’s Mystery Man


Those of you who have clicked through the visitor portraits in our Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present Flickr gallery, taken by Marco Anelli, probably noticed some familiar faces. Apart from a few celebrities in the mix (Sharon Stone, Rufus Wainwright, Isabella Rossellini, to name a few), there are a number of less famous faces that repeat day in and day out, almost as often as Marina herself. These Marina devotees have become micro-celebrities in their own right, at least around the Museum; the guards know them by name, and fellow visitors waiting their turn to sit with Marina regard them with an air of what may best be described as reverence.

Paco Blancas, a NYC-based make-up artist, is one such visitor. After seeing his portrait a number of times on Flickr, I found myself wondering, “Who is this mystery man? Why does he keep coming back? Why is he crying in so many of these photos?” I wanted to know his story. As luck would have it, last week I spotted him seated in the Marron Atrium, back for his fourteenth sitting with Marina. He shared a few words about his experiences with the piece and what compels him to keep coming back.

How many times have you sat with Marina so far?

I think today was number 14.

When was the first one?

The first one was March 11, two days after the opening.

Why do you keep coming back?

I think Marina’s piece has a very strong magnetism. It’s hard to explain but it’s almost like you feel this force, it draws you in, like a magnet. Sitting with her is a transforming experience—it’s luminous, it’s uplifting, it has many layers, but it always comes back to being present, breathing, maintaining eye contact. It’s an amazing journey to be able to experience and participate in the piece.

Also, I love meeting people in line. I’ve met a lot of people and have made a lot of new friends, many of them artists, but really all sorts of people. I keep in touch with them and we e-mail constantly to talk about our experiences. It’s like a little community of people who come to participate in the piece.

I noticed in a number of the photographs recently published online that you’re crying in many of them, and I saw you cried today. What about the experience elicits that emotion from you?

She almost acts as a catalyst. She presses the button that makes you feel all these emotions and feelings. I think through the concentration and the focus, plus the energy of the audience, it creates this movement within you. It’s very subtle the way it happens. Maybe it’s just an image that pops while I’m connected with Marina. Let’s say it’s an image of someone I love deeply, and then this creates the emotion, the tears just come out. Most of the time it’s tears of joy. You’re just being and thinking about somebody or something that’s important in your life. And then just acknowledging this person or situation and moving on into being present because yeah, the tears come, but I don’t want to cry for the entire sitting. I want to move on and continue to be with Marina, to be present.

You seem to have developed a very deep connection with her work. Can you talk a little about why?

Something I was very interested in is that she said she’s not interested in doing anything she’s not afraid of. I find it fascinating that she has to do something that she’s afraid of all the time, but she’s done it over all these years, and she gets over the fear, she goes over the fear. I don’t know how to explain, it’s almost like she flies over the fear, the danger, the risk… and I love that. It’s all about taking risks, and going beyond, and pushing the limits. I like these words that she said: “Who sets the limits?” I’m not saying it right, but it’s a very profound phrase because we think we can only go so far, but she’s teaching us that we can go beyond what we think we can do and I love that about her.

It’s interesting how in a city like NYC where everyone’s always rushing about, people will stop and wait and kind of be displaced in time in this piece.

I think that’s a really important aspect, now that you mention it. Because, yeah, we’re always like, “I have to do this, I have to do that.” But when I come here, I don’t make any plans because I know I’m going to be here and I don’t care what time it is. I just let go and forget about it. Sometimes we’ve been there for so many hours on line and you don’t even notice it, it’s like “Oh, how come it’s so late?” You don’t feel time anymore. Time stops, and there’s just this energy.