When I heard about the people over at Pop Up Underground planning an exhibition on BART, I loved the idea, and I was very happy to have them include a print of my piece The Man Riding on the Train in the show.
Besides enriching people’s commutes with art and music, I was impressed that they figured out a way to do it legally, with frames attached to the windows with suction cups.
I find the exclusivity of museums and galleries very frustrating a good bit of the time, so I always enjoy taking part in outside-of-the-white-box projects like this.
But then I watched The Artist is Present, a documentary about Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic, and it made me think twice (at least) about how the museum space can be used.
If her name doesn’t ring a bell, you might have heard of this notorious piece she did in the seventies, Rhythm 0: She stood in a gallery with a number of items on a table in front of her and she let people do whatever they wanted to her for six hours. The objects included a rose, a feather, but also scissors, a gun, a bullet, etc.
The film covers her MOMA retrospective back in 2010, as part of which she sat immobile and silent in the atrium of the museum for three months, all day, every day it was open, and visitors were invited to sit opposite her.
It was a little piece of genius, in my opinion. She created an undeniable vortex of connection that I think was especially powerful in the context of New York City. But it would be powerful anywhere.
She’s making herself vulnerable, and the art is in how that changes the audience. So she is the tool, but we are the medium.
Marina herself is pretty fascinating, but I’ll leave it to you to find out more from the film or the web if you so desire, except for one story: She describes how she was raised to be a soldier by her parents, who were both soldiers, and gives as an example that her mother would wake her up in the night to correct her when she had been moving around too much in her sleep and had wrinkled her blanket.
While I definitely wouldn’t wish that kind of experience on any child, it definitely gives a clue as to where her amazing physical stamina comes from.
Anyway, the exhibition was still at the MOMA, and so of course that means a limited audience in most of the usual ways, but it seemed clear to me that Marina had managed to create a performance that was both undeniably fine art and overwhelmingly accessible. She’s just sitting there, looking at you.
It was also a performance that – thanks partially to the attendance of assorted celebrities, like Lady Gaga – drew many, many people to see it as a spectacle but then got them engaged in the actual experience.
So this week here’s to doing things outside the box, but also here’s to finding unique ways to invite people inside the box!