Remember that Show at the MoMA Where that Lady Sat in a Chair, Silently, for Three Months?

by Lan Truong

Two years ago, performance artist Marina Abramović had a much-buzzed-about retrospective, “The Artist is Present,” at the the Museum of Modern Art, and it’s the subject (and title) of a new HBO documentary by Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre. For the retrospective, Abramović sat in a chair (without making a peep or getting up for anything–not even to use the bathroom) for three months. Between March and May 2010, from the time the MoMA opened in the morning to the time it closed at night, Abramović could be found at the museum, sitting in her chair. Museum visitors were invited, one at a time, to sit down face to face with her for as long as they liked. One dude even sat with her 21 individual times (he must have a really, really cool boss), and a number of celebrities also stopped by to sit with the artist.

Abramović is one of the most visible figures in the field of performance art, having spent the last four decades testing the limits of her body (i.e. doing crazy shit to it) and examining the relationship between performer and audience (i.e. making the audience a part of her performances). In a piece from 1974, titled “Rhythm 5,” Abramović laid down in the center of a burning star and blacked out from lack of oxygen. In “Rhythm 0,” another piece done later that year, Abramović placed 72 objects that could be used to create pleasure or pain (among the objects were a feather, honey, a scalpel, a gun, and a bullet) on a table and invited audience members to use them on her as she stood, passively, for six hours.

Akers and Dupre’s documentary follows Abramović as she prepares for her retrospective at the MoMA. Viewers get to see Abramović and illusionist David Blaine throw around an idea for the retrospective that involves lots of blood and gore, and how Abramović spent her time in the morning and at night when she wasn’t at the museum, sitting in her chair.


The documentary also surveys the past four decades of Abramović’s work and gives viewers a look at her relationship with ex-husband, Ulay, a performance artist with whom she’s collaborated with many, many times. Akers and Dupre’s documentary is beautifully shot and quite touching; viewers will laugh (Crocs make an appearance) and cry (Abramović did have a twelve-year relationship/collaboration with her ex-husband after all). The documentary will hit the big screens at Film Forum and the Landmark NuArt Theatre later this week before airing on HBO in July. If you were at the MoMA at all during Abramović’s three-month retrospective, you may have made it into the documentary. Check out the trailer below.

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Photos (from top): Marina Abramović & Matthew Akers. Photo Credit: David Smoler/Courtesy of HBO Documentary Films & Music Box Films; Marina Abramović & Ulay, Rest Energy in 1980. Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO Documentary Films & Music Box Films

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