November 12, 2011

Marina Knows What She Is Doing.

At the invitation of Jeffrey Deitch, Yvonne Rainer has seen a rehearsal of Marina Abramovic's performance art project for this year's MoCA Los Angeles gala. And in a new letter to Deitch, she has refined and reiterated her condemnation of it as an exploitative and "grotesque spectacle [that] promises to be truly embarrassing."

Would that it were actually embarrassing to the people involved, and to Marina herself. Rainer goes to great, cordial lengths in her open letter to Deitch [reproduced below] to separate her criticism of the gala from Abramovic's work. While generous, I believe this is incorrect; the only context in which a revolving human head centerpiece on a $100,000 table could be realized is as an artwork. I mean, Abramovic's certainly not claiming this is just edgy party decoration, is she?

If that were so, the case for embarrassment would be easily made. No, I think the reason this rankles so much is precisely because the gala does take on the mantle of art--and the stamp and stature of the artist. It's not possible to say that this gala is not art; it is art you cannot afford to experience. It is art that you find humanly, ethically, and socially objectionable. And it is being produced and shown for money in one of our [sic] most reputable museums, by an artist who shows and is celebrated in similar institutions.

That's a reality of the art world as it's currently constructed.

Last year between the blog post where I declared the Gala as Art Movement and my presentation on it at #rank, I found two things: 1) Abramovic was deeply engaged in the luxury/sensual/sensory spectacle that is the gala experience's stock in trade. And 2) Doug Aitken's MoCA gala Happening was, on one level, a critique of the real estate and cultural forces which used art and museums to shape Los Angeles to serve their own needs. And that critique was utterly and completely subsumed by those very forces, probably without Aitken realizing it.

The Gala is bigger than any artist's attempt to subvert it from inside the party tent. Aitken tried and failed, but I think Abramovic is just fine with it.

Yvonne Rainer Blasts Marina Abramović and MOCA LA [theperformanceclub.org]

Previously: An Incomplete History of The Gala-as-Art Movement [greg.org]
"Relational Aesthetics for the Rich, or A Brief History of the Gala as Art" [vimeo]

Yvonne Rainer's revised letter to Jeffrey Deitch, along with its growing list of signatories, is after the jump.

To Jeffrey Deitch:

After observing a rehearsal, I am writing to protest the "entertainment" about to be provided by Marina Abramović at the upcoming donor gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art where a number of young people's live heads will be rotating as decorative centerpieces at diners' tables and others--all women--will be required to lie perfectly still in the nude for over three hours under fake skeletons, also as centerpieces surrounded by diners.

On the face of it the above description might strike one as reminiscent of Salo, Pasolini's controversial film of 1975 that dealt with sadism and sexual abuse of a group of adolescents at the hands of a bunch of postwar fascists. Though it is hard to watch, Pasolini's film has a socially credible justification tied to the cause of anti-fascism. Abramović and MoCA have no such credibility--and I am speaking of this event itself, not of Abramović's work in general--only a questionable personal rationale about the beauty of eye contact and the transcendence of artists' suffering.

At the rehearsal the fifty heads--all young, beautiful, and mostly white--turning and bobbing out of holes as their bodies crouched beneath the otherwise empty tables, appeared touching and somewhat comic, but when I tried to envision 800 inebriated diners surrounding them, I had another impression. I myself have never been averse to occasional epatering of the bourgeoisie. However, I can't help feeling that subjecting her performers to possible public humiliation and bodily injury from the three-hour endurance test at the hands of a bunch of frolicking donors is yet another example of the Museum's callousness and greed and Ms Abramović's obliviousness to differences in context and some of the implications of transposing her own powerful performances to the bodies of others. An exhibition is one thing--again, this is not a critique of Abramovic's work in general--but titillation for wealthy donor/diners as a means of raising money is another.

Ms Abramović is so wedded to her original vision that she--and by extension, the Museum director and curators--doesn't see the egregious associations for the performers, who, though willing, will be exploited nonetheless. Their cheerful voluntarism says something about the pervasive desperation and cynicism of the art world such that young people must become abject table ornaments and clichéd living symbols of mortality in order to assume a novitiate role in the temple of art.

This grotesque spectacle promises to be truly embarrassing. I and the undersigned wish to express our dismay that an institution that we have supported can stoop to such degrading methods of fund raising. Can other institutions be far behind? Must we re-name MoCA "MOUFR" or the Museum of Unsavory Fund Raising?

Sincerely,

Yvonne Rainer
Douglas Crimp
Tom Knechtel
Monica Majoli
Liz Kotz
Michael Duncan
Matias Viegener
Judie Bamber
Kimberli Meyer
Kathrin Burmester
Nizan Shaked
Alexandro Segade
David Burns
A.L. Steiner
Simon Leung
Moyra Davey
Taisha Paggett
Susan Silton
Silvia Kolbowski
Susan Mogul
Julian Hoeber
Catherine Lord
Zoe Beloff
Lincoln Tobier
Millie Wilson
Mary Kelly
Charles Gaines
Amy Sadao
Gregg Bordowitz
Andrea Geyer
Lucas Michael
Liz Deschenes
Ulrike Muller
Nancy Popp
Su Freidrich
Dean Daderko
Litia Perta
Ginger Brooks Takahashi
Stefan Kalmar
bell hooks
Julie Ault
Zoe Leonard
Molly Corey
Sharon Horvath
Rachel Harrison
John Zurier
Day Gleeson
Thomas Miccelli
John Yau
Ernest Larsen

Final Letter to Jeffrey Deitch and MoCA Regarding Annual Gala [artforum]

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: November 12, 2011.

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