Wednesday, October 26, 2005

what is art?

Just heard about this series that the Guggenheim is doing called Marina Abramović: Seven Easy Piece. She is a prominent performance artist who rose to fame, well art-world fame, when performance art was in something of a heyday, when I imagine you couldn't help but run into somebody in new york, cutting themselves with razor blades, shouting mantras like "Chocolate, beauty, rage!", brushing their hair a hundred strokes and then diving into a pool of butter, or something. And finding transcendence.

Abramović will be performing/exhibiting (?which word to use?) for seven consecutive nights, doing her own work and presenting renditions of other seminal works from the 60s and 70s by artists who are and have been big names, again ... at least in the art world, like Bruce Nauman, Joseph Beuys, Vito Acconci and others.

I once went to a video installation exhibit at PS 1 Contemporary Art Center, which had floors of tv sets showing mostly black and white videos from this tiem period, many by these same performance artists, including a whole room of Abramović. First of all, it was kind of creepy, this huge old school all dark, with things blaring and screaming every which way with scary and confusing and repetitive images, probably more so by the sheer number than the works themselves. I suppose it was all very raw, which is a term that I don't much associate with 'these days'... I don't quite know where I'm going with that, but maybe we'll return to it.

The following is from the press release describing the works that'll be performed at the Guggenheim, comparing these acts to interpreting musical scores, as ensembles and classical musicians do. It still sounds kind of nuts and I wonder if the audience finds as much the artist does. Because being an audience member seems as much a self-inflicting painful experience as the work itself. I still don't have much of a grasp on the contemporary art world itself, even with some experiences with it, and it's weird to feel how distant and self-enclosed that arena is. I feel like contemplating this subject always leads me to: What is art and does it matter?

The works to be performed include:
Wednesday, November 9: Bruce Nauman, Body Pressure (1974), Galerie Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf. Nauman constructed a false wall nearly identical in size to an existing wall behind it. A pink poster with black typeface invited visitors to perform their own action by pressing against the wall.
Thursday, November 10: Vito Acconci, Seedbed (1972), Sonnabend Gallery, New York. Acconci occupied the space under a false floor, masturbating and speaking through a microphone to visitors walking above in an attempt to establish an "intimate" connection with them.
Friday, November 11: VALIE EXPORT, Action Pants: Genital Panic (1969), Augusta-Lichtspiele, Munich. Wearing pants with the crotch removed, EXPORT walked through the cinema during a film screening, offering the spectators visual contact with a real female body. Walking up and down the aisles among the mostly male patrons, she challenged them to "look at the real thing" instead of passively enjoying images of women on the screen.
Saturday, November 12: Gina Pane, Self-Portrait(s) (1973), Galerie Stadler, Paris. Pane lay on a metal bed above lit candles. She then made incisions with a razor blade in the skin around her fingernails and lips while slides of women painting their nails were projected on the wall. Her back turned to the audience, she recited "They won’t see anything" while a camera recorded women’s reactions in the audience. Facing forward again, she gargled with milk and spit it into a bowl, until the milk and her blood mixed.
Sunday, November 13: Joseph Beuys, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965), Galerie Schmela, Düsseldorf. With his head covered in honey and gold leaf, Beuys cradled a dead rabbit, showing it pictures on the wall and whispering to it. He wore an iron sole on his right foot and a felt sole on his left.
Monday, November 14: Marina Abramović, Lips of Thomas (1975), Galerie Krinzinger, Innsbruck. Abramović ate a kilogram of honey and drank a liter of red wine out of a glass. She then broke the glass with her hand, incised a star in her stomach with a razor blade, and whipped herself until she "no longer felt pain." She lay down on an ice cross while a space heater suspended above caused her to bleed more profusely.
Tuesday, November 15: Marina Abramović will premiere a new performance created specifically for this project.

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