Here's Looking at You Kid ~ Marina Abramović
I actually have learned a lot from Danto's writings over the years. But my colleague and friend Rachel, who teaches in the Rochester VCS program recently referred to him as a "dork." Given that he seems to really, really like this whole exercise, I have begun to wonder myself. Of the current performance Danto writes that the "performance has brought MOMA itself to the cutting edge of contemporary artistic experiment" and that "It has captured the imagination of everyone interested in contemporary art." I guess I am just not all that interested.
I will come back to some "interesting" aspects of The Artist is Present in a companion post. Here I just want to pose some questions that Danto tacitly raises. Here he is:
"Performance art, as currently practiced, emerged as an avant garde movement in the 1960s and ’70s, and some of its features made it difficult to visualize how it might make the transition from galleries and public spaces to the more institutional environment of the museum.I am sure that there are theorists of art who will think my puzzlement is naive, but do we define art by what can make it into a museum? And isn't the shift into "the more institutional environment of the museum" pretty much an invitation to passivity? In the current instance Abramović seeks to control the terms of the entire "experience"; that she is not quite able to do so does nothing to mitigate the fact that any creative participation by the folks who line up to sit with her is at the margins of her plan. I wonder if anyone has walked up to the sitters and spoken to them or offered to purchase the place of the person sitting with Abramović - a novel way to cut line. I'll bet not. (Maybe said purchaser would then insist that the chair remain vacant while she perused the other parts of the retrospective. Imagine the ire of the MOMA security, to say nothing of the artist, in such a circumstance.) Everyone surely is polite and well-behaved. Passive. Compliant. Proper. They all know how to comport themselves in a museum. They are indeed a "part" of the work, playing a role that has been engineered for them.
For one thing, the medium of the artist is his or her own body, sometimes nude or engaged in highly dangerous circumstances. Pictures of nude bodies doing dangerous things raise no such obstacles in a museum space, but performance art itself is real in all dimensions. Before it can be translated and presented in a museum, a number of problems, both practical and philosophical, must be worked out.Marina Abramovic is one of the early performance artists whose works have the deep originality that justifies their inclusion in great museums.
One method would be to allow the pieces to be re-performed, which purists naturally disallow. For them, a performance is a one-time event, unlike a play, which is made to be re-performed; in theater, the distinction between character and actor is widely accepted. In the purist’s conception of performance art, there can be no such distinction; the artist and the performer are one, and must use his or her own body in the work. No one else, they argue, can do this, for reasons both moral and metaphysical.
[. . .]
What is clear is that the possibility of sitting with Marina has ignited in the public imagination the idea that one can do more than passively experience works of art, that one can be part of a work of art for as long as one is willing or able."