From March through May of 2010, Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic held a retrospective of her works that span decades of creativity. The centerpiece of her copious art display is simple: she sits at a table on a wooden chair and Museum of Modern Art visitors can, one at a time, sit in silence opposite ”Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present.”
For over 30 years, Marina Abramovic has been asked the question about her work: Why is it art? Her answer is the 736-hour and 30 minute exhibit of herself and the ever changing participants where, silent and motionless, she looks them in the eye. For some it is a revelation. For others the experience moved them deeply. And, there was no end to those willing to participate in Abramovic’s performance art piece with over 850,000 attending the exhibit during its three-month run.
Although the bulk of “The Artist Is Present” focuses on the preparation and performance of the titular exhibit, filmmakers Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre gather copious amounts of footage from Marina’s 30 years of artistic expression. Some of it, like Abramovic and long-time collaborator and once partner Ulay screaming or slapping or staring at each other, does not appeal to me, personally. These sequences from her artist career indeed raise the question: Why is it art? However, the diversity and intelligence of Abramovic’s works show her creativity and answers the question with: Yes, it is art, but not everyone will think so.
Like any good documentary, “”The Artist Is Present” gives insight into the life and work of a truly talented lady. Her works may not be for all tastes she but obviously has an audience if MoMA is any indication. I give it a B+.
Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupree have created a top shelf documentary on a difficult subject - another artist - and Marina Abramovic is no easy subject. She was one of the earliest performance artists, constantly pushing extremes of the human body. Some of her most provocatives works were conceived with West German artist Uwe Laysiepen between the years 1978-1988. Their breakup was dramatic, and another performance piece - they each walked the Great Wall of China from opposite ends, met in the middle and said goodbye. All of this history is filled in from the jumping off point of a MoMA retrospective of her work in 2010. Abramovic trained young artists to recreate her pieces while she herself staged a new one, one requiring unimaginable stamina - for the 2 1/2 month run of the show, Marina would sit completely still in a chair as visitors cued up to sit across from her and look into her eyes. The effect is incredibly and unexpectedly moving. Uwe visited. So did the 'everywhere man' James Franco. A cult even formed around the exhibit, people camping out, waiting every day to get another chance at silent communication with the artist. A-
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