Naked City: Marina Abramovic at MoMA
It is great to watch a nicely-dressed somebody meet a nicely-bodied undressed somebody. Standing at the press preview of “The Artist is Present,” the Marina Abramovic retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art the other day, I watched people squeeze between two very fit actors, a man and a woman, who stood naked on either side of a narrow doorway. Like most people, my friend John R. Lane, former director of the Dallas Museum of Art, didn’t flinch as he passed through the flesh gauntlet, dressed in his usual British bespoke tweeds. I think I pretended not to sneak a look when I took my turn, though I did. I most liked watching a woman visitor, dressed fully in black, giving the naked guy a long and appreciative up-and-down.
Imponderabilia, photo by Scott Rudd
The nasty thing about a lot of art is that it seduces you into beauty and then reminds you of death. It’s called memento mori–remember that you, too, will die–and those kinds of artful reminders are on full display at the Abramovic show. Naked people display themselves as if they were mounted on a cross, or they lie below skeletons, or throw themselves at elastic bands time after fruitless time.
Luminosity, photo by Scott Rudd
Skeletons, blood and gore abound. Not all the actors are so fit, and their aging flesh becomes a gentle and familiar reminder of our own time-bound nature posed between the harsh realities of beautiful youth and death on display.
Nude with Skeleton, photo by Scott Rudd
What is even more remarkable is how the performers just sit, or stand. Even those who are clothed are eerie: their living, breathing bodies have become as if of stone, almost dead artifacts in this great tomb of modern art. After a while, all I could do to stay sane was to run out into the Manhattan streets, where everything happens in fast motion and the only nearly naked, motionless bodies are the ones guarding the entrance to the Abercrombie & Fitch store around the corner.
Abramovic, photo by Scott Rudd
Read our interview with Marina Abramovic from the January 2010 issue.