The Artist Is Not Present But the Brand Sure Is / Hyperallergic

Marina Abramovic & James Franco at MOMA’s “The Artist Is Present” (2010) (screengrab via YouTube video “James Franco on Display“)

Marina Abramovic & James Franco at MOMA’s “The Artist Is Present” (2010) (screengrab via YouTube video “James Franco on Display“)

CHICAGO — So much of performance, online and off, is essentially about energy. Marina Abramović knows this, and so after her 2010 endurance-based performance at MoMA “The Artist is Present,” she disappeared in order to train with shamans in Brazil where she learned more about energy, and took time to heal. After reading fellow Hyperallergic writer Jillian Steinhauer’s “Jay Z Raps at Marina Abramović, or the Day Performance Art Died” last week, however, I’ve been thinking about the idea of the artist’s brand as being present rather than the artist herself, and how that affects Marina’s arguably new-age-y reasonings around “energy” and being present.

This question has spawned many Facebook conversations on my wall, from which this mothership blog post response was birthed. For all of her talk about creating world-changing performance art, understanding energies, and of the stuff that makes people cry, the “grandmother of performance art” has also essentially become a brand, a former shell of her performance artist self. Her wish is to go mainstream. In other words, she is a celebrity, and the Artist Isn’t Present, but the brand sure is.

Before I really get into this topic, I want to first admit that I have always been very moved by Abramović’s work and her presence. About five years ago, I ended up at lunch one day with her and a group of people at some restaurant in downtown Chicago. Marina Abramović offered me a business card with what appeared to be her personal email address. She was quite present that day at lunch, and told me to write to her when I felt ready. As a budding young female art critic, I swooned and said I TOTALLY WOULD!!!! (how else would my 25-year-old girl self react, really?). I held onto that business card, waiting for the right time so as not to waste Ms. Abramović’s energy, writing to her as some lame fan girl. I wanted to be present with Marina, whether it was on the emails or in-person. And surely she understood that, being a seminal figure in performance art and all.

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