‘Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present’ challenges viewers.

Rena Rong

Image used under the fair use doctrine
Is performance art really art? Even director Matthew Akers thought performance art “was a joke,” before taking on the project.
It’s not imperative to like Abramović’s work in order to enjoy the film, which sheds light on the perspective behind performance art. Abramović’s use of the body as a medium shocks and awes, and her past 40 years of work and dedication earn her a retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art.
The film takes its title from Abramović’s three month exhibit at the MoMA, where for the duration of the exhibition the artist “is literally present.” It follows the woman who is hailed as “the grandmother of performance art” as she prepares for what may be her most important piece to date: sitting still in stone silence and gazing into the eyes of whoever sits across from her, every day and every hour the museum is open to the public.
Those who sit across from Marina tear up for unknown reasons, gawk, or even do the most outlandish things in their eagerness to participate in the performance. This piece takes the artist’s capabilities to the limit, which risks her life but elicits enough wonder for visitors to camp outside the museum the day before, rushing in a mad dash to line up for a chance to sit across from the artist.
Perhaps the greatest summation of the allure behind Marina’s work is from from a comment made in the film by art critic Arthur Danto, “For most masterpieces people stand in front of it for thirty seconds. Mona Lisa: 30 seconds. But people come and sit here all day.” The intensity of the woman who is now considered a darling of the art world and her relationship with her audience is very palpable.
The pacing of the film is commendable. As one viewer put it, “for a movie about not much, there is so much.” Tight shots and dramatic cuts woven in between honest confessions make the film an experience within itself, capturing the raw intensity of Abramović’s new piece at the MoMA, providing insight on the tremendous amount of physical and mental stamina required to pull it off. Plus, the narrative does a great job of breaking down performance art and making it easily comprehensible.
Furthermore, with the introduction of her estranged relationship and reconciliation with German performance-artist Ulay (Abramović’s past performance-art partner and lover), a story of a great lost love is easily relatable.
The film never ceases to engage, whether it be through sentimental to cuckoo reactions from museum visitors or visits from famous celebrities and artists like James Franco and Chuck Close.
The last chance to view “Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present” during True/False is at the Blue Note tomorrow 5:30 p.m.
By Rena Rong