Articles

The Artist Is Not Present But the Brand Sure Is

by Alicia Eler on July 17, 2013

Marina Abramovic & James Franco

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.

And so last week I wrote to that email address, which I obviously will not disclose here. I received a reply … from her “people.” So excited by the idea of being present with the artist herself, I decided to alert my Facebook village with the following status update:

MarinaPresentMore than 60 likes and 10 comments later, at which point the performance of this social networked excitability felt complete, I returned to the email and replied to the office director, aka one of Marina’s “people.” The very passionate man with the sexy Italian name explained to me that the artist was not present right now; in typical Marina fashion, she was “on a retreat, living in total isolation in a hut by the river with no food, just water.” On top of this, he explained, the artist would not be available for any interviews or conversations until “next September,” 2014. That is more than one year away. To further the internet performance of being “present” with Marina’s people and our continuing conversation on email with her “people,” I realized that I had to once again alert my Facebook Village.

MarinaNotPresentMuch fewer “likes” appeared on this status update, which was also longer length-wise than the celebratory two-liner that appeared the day before. I explained to the office director that I did not want to follow another page on Facebook, and good luck to Marina and her team. He responded quickly, possibly confused, telling me that if I did want to keep up with the Institute, Facebook was the most effective way. This led me again to the question of how an artist’s brand is present, but the artist is conveniently absent. Philadelphia-based artist Asimina Chremos chimed in on my Facebook thread on the problematic nature of Abramović’s brand, and her evolution toward celebrity:

“I don’t see a problem with artists starting institutions for the further development and preservation of their excellent work, and to inspire, support and educate next generations as well. Meredith Monk, Robert Raushenberg, go for it. What is disturbing about Abramović is her self-fulness in all this. I suppose it is a natural outgrowth of ‘The Artist is Present.’ She’s been insisting on her presence since the beginning. Her bold embodiments were at first quite radical, but now, in the environment of late-capitalist USA, ‘presence,’ instead of being numinous and luminous, has been subverted into the solid and smooth airbrushed facade called ‘celebrity,’ with all its attendant, devilishly dancing dollar-signs. I propose that perhaps Abramović has embraced this tsunami of attention with the naive delight of a peasant girl from the 18th century who finds herself transported from the farm to royal court in a ballgown, rather than with the discerning eye of one who views herself within the broader picture of the human condition and its politics, economics, and history.”

If the artist is actually present, in the same room with other people, that doesn’t ensure that she is actually there as more than a brand. Anne Yoder, co-editor and co-founder of Projecttile Lit, a literary journal specializing in non-traditional writing with a feminist bent, added that when she was at MoMA PS1 on Sunday, Abramović spent the majority of her session plugging the institute “as if it were a fundraising event,” which was followed by her publicity assistant telling the audience how they could contribute and also follow the Institute on Facebook, Twitter, and through a variety of websites.

In other words, even if the artist is present, it becomes more about her artist brand, and you can follow it/her on Facebook, as Marina originally explained to all of her “Facebook People” in a promotional video for the Marina Abramovic Institute, which we here at Hyperallergic blogged about sometime ago. Abramović chose to address her “Facebook People” rather the art world, which would have leveled the playing field and certainly included other performance artists, writers, curators, and culture workers. In this instance, Marina instead participated in this cult of artist-as-celebrity and artist-as-brand.

“I need to create that space for all other artists, that performance really becomes mainstream art. It’s not just about you; it’s about others,” she says.

She ends the video by announcing ways people can learn more about the Marina Abramović Institute — through Facebook, of course.

“We have new Facebook just for the Institute,” she says, as the URL flashes across the screen. “Please go, be part of it. I love you!” The piece concludes as she sends a kiss off to her Facebook people. For if you, Facebook person, go to the new Facebook page, you can experience the presence of an artist’s brand.

Screengrab from a promotional video for the Marina Abramovic Institute video

Screenshot via “Marina’s Message to Facebook” on Vimeo

This is not to completely trivialize the power of Abramović’s work either, as it, too, becomes a commentary on the new idea of what it means to be “present” for artists, writers, and culture workers of any kind in the increasingly fluid IRL-URL space which engenders a fraught relationship between the self and the selfie. Staying present nowadays is an ever-shifting challenge and a strange, virtual-mediated reality. Part of Marina’s presence as a brand is tied in with her references to Shamanism and new age-y practices, especially in between her intense durational performances. Her interest in working on energies in this fashion marks a shift from a more modern Western psychoanalytic approach to that of spirits, energies, and perhaps even mysticism. This is all a part of the brand.

” … I was just in Brazil, and I went to meet two Shamans, and I spent five days with them on a special retreat in the forest,” Abramović told Interview Magazine in early 2012. “These three days really fixed me more than three years of psychoanalysis.”

An Xiao’s 2010 piece “The Artist Is Kinda Present” responds to the difficulties of staying present and Abramović’s 2010 piece, providing commentary on the nature of social relationships in an age of ever-present mobile devices and social media. Re-imagining Abramović’s piece as a coolly zen meditation exercise, Xiao allowed the participants to be “present” with her, the artist, through text messages or tweets while they sat in front of her and she wore dark sunglasses that frustrated any attempt to read her emotions; the artist responded until the participant felt they had reached a satisfactory connection or were just bored.

An Xiao, "The Artist Is Kinda Present," 2010. (image by Hrag via Flickr)

An Xiao, “The Artist Is Kinda Present” (2010) (image by Hrag via Flickr)

This experience is different from Abramović’s pointed mode of artist-as-brand. When she addresses her “Facebook People” and the media by asking them to follow her Facebook page for regular updates rather than being present or even kinda present, the artist is a brand — and it is much easier to have control over a brand than an actual human experience. In her  performance “The Artist is Present” (2010), Abramović describes the idea of “unconditional love,” another tenet of the sort of energy exchange typical of a new age-y worldview.

“Unconditional love with someone you’ve never met is a straightforward feeling that is so overwhelming and fulfilling,” Abramović tells Interview Magazine. “It’s not easy to do. I was trying to set up a zone where I was really empty. I am receiver and sender at the same time.”

Perhaps next time when Marina’s brand throws down with another rapper, let’s hope it’s someone attempting to transcend and create rather than maintain the status quo. Or perhaps she will just focus on her next project, which is working on a film with James Franco, who she told Elle magazine is “the most interesting actor of the moment.” If that doesn’t spell celebrity branding, please pinch me IRL, poke me on Facebook, or step up and brush some dirt off my shoulder just so I know that the artist’s brand, rather than the artist herself, is present.

Correction 7/19: The representative from Ms. Abramović office with whom the author corresponded has clarified in the comments below that he misspoke and originally meant  that the artist is unavailable through September 2013.

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  • MichelleLeigh

    Excellent piece, thank you

  • literarity

    great work here alicia. really look forward to reading yr future commentary

  • Dain Q. Gore

    Great read. Alicia, the fact that you invested in the subject by actually contacting Abramović (well, her brand at least) really helped reinforce your greater point.

  • un’ruly

    Classic case of “if the artist is unknown i love her, if the artist is known or worse, mainstream, i hate her.” I guess it’s best for artists to only be famous post-mortem. Or maybe critics can just acknowledge the natural evolution (especially logistical and administrative) that happens when a person reaches a certain level of notoriety.

    • http://www.aliciaeler.com Alicia Eler

      True, but Marina is saying that she wants to go mainstream. It is different when it just happens versus making a concerted effort to go mainstream. Perhaps her marketing is the real problem.

    • Dain Q. Gore

      When the brand is built around presence it’s bound to elicit more scrutiny than normal.

  • Christopher Clary

    Very funny and pointed article. I’d love to see a smackdown between Abramović and AA Bronson on all things spiritual. Interestingly, Bronson founded the Institute for Art, Religion, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Let’s settle this with a good old fashioned Mathew Barney football game between institutes. My money is on Bronson.

    • http://www.aliciaeler.com Alicia Eler

      Nice. Who will kick-off?

      • Christopher Clary

        Yikes. Given the “peoples” response above I would say team Abramović. They would have no patience for the humor and playfulness of Bronson’s young shamans.

  • Monsieur Roubignoles

    I seem to remember that on the last day of Marina’s MoMA séance a few people tried to make contact. ( http://bogplot.blogspot.com/p/artist-is-putrescent-staring-approach.html ) Her brand was, of course, all that was reached. And the people who came, critical or otherwise, participated. Now that Marina is the modified body we’re dining at, in which ways can we leave this situation? Will this article justify our gentle persistence to be excused from the table? And after we’ve abandoned the moniker to build the commune what havoc will the adults plot?

    The 70s went that way. A subculture of late 60′s brats went off the grid, more deeply involved in self-improvement than prickly lines of class conflict. How far will the selfie take next generation? Will it learn to give up the values of their upbringing, or once the computer game is shut down will they look for the safest place to raise a family?

    I’d like to quote a recent Facebook post from Felix Bernstein,
    “Certain LaGuardia (the popular nyc art high school) students commit themselves to a subversive ideal of art that involves a sparkling social life at large upper west side apartments and using a ton of drugs when mom and dad are out. A girl for instance took a shit in the dishwasher. Then later died of an overdose in her 20s. Had she survived, this memory would be the thrilling secret she would chalk up to the romance of adolescence or the mind altering effects of drugs. After the party ends, any commitment to art is lost and there is either death or a conformity to middle brow “grown up” values. Or if they wish to remain true to their pipe dreams, they endorse Liberal values–such as marijuana reform, women’s rights, and gay marriage. All of which involve the trading up of identities (the drug abuser becomes the neurotic anxious patient; the woman gets the privilege/power of the man, the sodomite becomes the nuclear father). In all these trade ups they strive to reach an ideal like that of the shit in the dishwasher—-a subversion that remains within the comfort of the middle class living room of mom and dad (that will be discussable on msnbc, even if it -raises eyebrows-).”

    • Tara

      I too liked the article, Alicia, and your comments, M. Roubignoles. MA was here in Toronto recently and her lecture felt like an Infomercial. She showed a clip of one of Elvis Presley’s last performances in Germany where he was just a shell, perhaps not realizing that in a similar way, she is on the same trajectory as an artist.

  • Giuliano Argenziano

    Dear Alicia,

    This is Giuliano, not one of Marina’s people. I am Marina’s office Director, who took the liberty to nicely reply to you in a timely manner since, as everybody knows now, Marina is in the middle of a retreat and cannot check her emails. Since you took the liberty too to break the confidentiality of our correspondence, please let me post the whole answer I sent to you:

    Hello Alicia,

    This is Giuliano, Marina’s office Director. I am writing to let you know that Marina is in the middle of a retreat, living in a hut by the river in total isolation with no food, just water. Unfortunately Marina will not be able to be one of the contributors for your article because right after the retreat she will be focusing entirely on the Kickstarter campaign for her Institute in Hudson and will not be available until next September.

    I am very sorry about this but I hope you can understand.

    Yours,

    Giuliano

    I understand that English is not my mother tongue and I apologize if, in any way, my response misled you. However I do think that when I say next September, I mean in two months, not 2014. As you can also see, I never said that the Marina Abramovic Institute will be opening on September 2014.

    Regarding me telling you about the Institute page on Facebook, that’s simply because in your reply to my email, you asked me to feel free to keep you posted on the Institute in Hudson. It was very spontaneous of me to tell you about that page considering that you showed interest in being updated.

    Congratulations on your article though. I am happy for you because thanks to our correspondence you certainly got enough material for your piece. I hope you enjoy your moment.

    Have a wonderful one.

    Giuliano

    • Christopher Clary

      Hmmm. Though you might not like Alicia’s choice of words and it’s intended humor, how are you not “one of Marina’s people” if you are her office Director? And given that you work for an artist of a certain public — dare I say celebrity — status, how can you assume any correspondence to be in confidence. But don’t worry you’re upholding the brand of Abramović prefectly and beyond reproach.

      • Danny Brody

        I think it is fair to assume that if a journalist wishes to use someone’s email they owe them the courtesy of letting that person know. In fact, if the author had done so, she might not have jumped the gun and this whole blog post would be moot, or at least quite a lot less embarrassing.

        • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

          She didn’t use his email as much as his short response to a query. She identified herself as a critic/reporter. It sounds like he has never dealt with the media before and is probably embarrassed. Nothing in her commentary changes because of the timeline.

          • Danny Brody

            What does he have to be embarrassed about? She’s the one who misunderstood HIM! And I am sure that MA hired an Office Director who has never dealt with the media. She’s just that stupid.

            My contention is that this blog post is bullshit because it would never have been written if she had just scheduled the interview. And also, did the author really expect MA to answer an email from a card she gave out years ago? A real journalist would have contacted her the next day. EVERYTHING in her commentary changes because of the timeline.

          • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

            I don’t think you’re understanding the larger point. Alicia is discussing the idea of being present in a virtual way. An Xiao’s work addresses that problem, and the Facebook page and the video, etc. address that too.

            Perhaps English is different in your part of the world but “next September” does not mean “September.” Perhaps he mistyped, that’s fine, it happens, but Alicia is talking about an artist who is dealing with the idea of “presence” and how that translates into a brand, etc. Sometimes misreadings can lead to investigations that reveal larger truths… and I think that’s the case here.

            And yes, sounds like she did hire someone who has little experience with the media. When anyone (never mind a reporter) writes you and asks you a question and you respond, you can assume that is on the record.

          • http://www.aliciaeler.com Alicia Eler

            Thank you, Sir Hrag.

        • http://www.aliciaeler.com Alicia Eler

          This blog post is a commentary…

          • Giuliano Argenziano

            Alicia, The artist is not present because she is doing a retreat. Maybe I should just have ignored your email and let Marina reply to you directly after a month. But since I know that press runs on deadlines, I thought it would be correct and professional to reply promptly and let you know that your request cannot be accommodated until September.

            It does become personal to me if you alter the content of my response, saying that Marina will not be available until September 2014 which is when the institute opens. The institute will not open on September 2014 and I never said that. All this comes as a disappointment to me considering your nice response to my email saying that you were looking forward to September. You understood perfectly that it was this coming September and not next year.

          • http://www.aliciaeler.com Alicia Eler

            Right, so the artist is not present but her brand is. Sure, there is no need to respond quickly for an event that is two months away. I did think you meant September 2014, to be clear. I am always looking forward to major art events such as the opening of Marina’s Institute. I did NOT understand perfectly that “it was coming September and not next year”—I do not appreciate you telling ME what I think. Oh wait, or maybe that is perfectly in line with what a brand does—tell people what to think. In other words, the artist is not present but her brand certainly is. Keep up the good work, and see you at the Institute one of these days . . . the writer is present. Haha.

          • http://firstproofprints.com/ J Redmann

            I think you’re dead on, and it was a very good article to read. I don’t think Giuliano understands the premise of your statement very well.

            But the fact he responded to do some PR/Brand orientation is interesting and cuts to the heart of what your point was.

      • http://www.aliciaeler.com Alicia Eler

        I agree!

    • Danny Brody

      Ouch. So, Alicia, I guess the question is: “Would you have written this blog post if you had not misunderstood Giuliano?” Or would you have stayed silent in order to get that interview two months hence?

      • http://www.aliciaeler.com Alicia Eler

        Totally! I don’t want an exclusive on the institute. That is not the point here. This is a commentary on the extension of Marina’s performance art practice. In a way, it is actually quite a brilliant meta-commentary and I think her office director is funny. :)

        • Danny Brody

          gotcha-brilliant in an absurd way :)

    • http://www.aliciaeler.com Alicia Eler

      Hi there, Giulano, your response was not personal and I am commenting on the idea of how, quite literally, the artist is not present but her brand IS. This to me feels part of the performance. I am surprised you do not see it this way? You are her office director. For the record, I am not interested in a story about the institute. I was giving you an opportunity to pitch me on a story- that is why I said feel free to keep me posted. Following a page on Facebook is a pretty lame way to keep the media engaged. Hence Marina is now a brand. Good job.

    • http://www.aliciaeler.com Alicia Eler

      I received an email announcing that Marina will be present at a MoMA PS1 event on July 25.

    • Rose Heels

      How deliciously upper class of Ms. Abramović to indulge in spending her time in a hut by the river in total isolation with no food, just water. What a benefit to the world, this spiritual visionary. I hope her next performance piece includes contemporaries such as Ke$ha or Beyonce in a proper arts venue, perhaps Sydney Opera House or Madison Square Garden.

  • http://www.thebambamblog.com/ BamBam

    Just to play devil’s advocate here, Abramović’s work has always been, in part, about the objectification of her body and her self. One example would be ‘Rhythm 0’ (1974) when she provided objects for gallery visitors to use on her as they wished. All while she stood against a wall impassively. So given this, her apotheosis as a brand rather than a human being could be described as the logical conclusion of her artistic development. During her career, she has endured certain physical limits, and has effaced standard human behavior/reactions with her pieces.

    Of course, a defense such as this is rather depressing and I wouldn’t expound it.
    Celebrity isn’t about presence. It’s all about omnipresence.
    The fact that Abramović is a performance artist makes the issue of celebrity far more sensitive in her case.

  • Jadeleah

    Man, I really liked her back in the day. This. This is just drivel now.

  • Norma Desperate

    outstanding assessment of her current position in our cultural universe and the branding of an art medium which at one time, thrived as being a renegade, alternative form overall. as a creative person myself, I wish I thought this was for the greater good, but alas, like everything else, it simply boils down to what our society has become about: me, Me, ME. when there’s no difference between hanging with Jay Z, James Franco and shamans, this isn’t about art, it’s about ego and the almighty dollar – hey, I’m sure those flowy gowns ain’t cheap…

    • http://www.aliciaeler.com Alicia Eler

      Yes, werk

  • Elena Ioannidou

    Great article

  • Ricky Saylor

    After reading the commentary by Eler and the comments that followed I think I understand what happened. The budding art critic wanted something from Abramović and when she didn’t get it exactly when she wanted it she turned against Abramović. Maybe Abramović is a brand, but perhaps Abramović is a brand most of all to Eler. Perhaps it is Eler who has reduced a person – in this case Abramović, with her troublesome travel schedule and limited time – to a commodity. Isn’t Eler responding exactly the way a consumer should when frustrated by a commodity? She is complaining, loudly. She is still complaining. When Abramović’s Office Manager reaches out to Eler and graciously explains that he was misquoted and misunderstood, Eler refuses the offered humanity and instead chides him for misunderstanding her. Jeez. I guess the customer must always be right.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Sounds like that’s what you want to be true, but doesn’t make it true.

      • Danny Brody

        Great argument, Hrag! I understand the desire to defend your “member of the media”, but by your and your member’s churlish responses here, and the overall childishness of the post in general, I have to agree with Ricky. Which, of course, doesn’t make it true.

        • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

          Did you also notice what it appears that the office manager’s response appears to be a partial truth, as the artist will actually be at an event at MoMA PS1 this coming Thursday (and no, it doesn’t appear it is about her Kickstarter campaign). In other words, don’t take statements from official sources at face value.

          • Danny Brody

            I completely agree-but often when a publicist or manager tells a member of the media that their employer/client isn’t available, they just mean that they aren’t available for YOU. I’ve been there, and it IS annoying and disheartening. I’ve even had famous friends blow me off (“sorry, we’re in the studio recording until the fall and we’re not giving interviews.” Month later, there’s an interview in Rolling Stone AND Guitar Player from exactly the time they were “busy”). I don’t know; maybe all this Marina-bashing has gone to my head-and maybe there’s a sense of a thesis being laid out here but not fully fleshed out or proven: that a “brand” is somehow a commercial sellout, and that the artist is no longer a person but a commodity. Very interesting idea, and thanks for the thoughtful interaction. Cheers.

    • http://www.aliciaeler.com Alicia Eler

      I am not a “budding” young art critic or a customer. I am a member of the media. I have been doing this for about 7 years…and yes, I think artists who become celebrities really do change. That is the point of this article. Thank you.

    • Lady Ann

      The reponses to Mr. Argenziano lack professional courtesy. Perhaps Ms. Eler’s reply could have been tactfully made through a private e-mail. Others may be dissuaded to e-mail your writers in the future, as their contents could be found in an article, without notification or context. Not everyone is aware that their e-mails are “on the record”. (The change has still not been made in the article: Sept. 2014 to Sept. 2013.) Frankly, the responses repel me as a reader. I believe there should be a healthy respect between colleagues.

      • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

        You seem to want the media to have a cozy relationship with those they write about. That is bad media.
        You are fixating on a minor point that isn’t even a seminal part of this argument.

        • Lady Ann

          My main objection is the lack of polite discourse in the responses to the office manager. I don’t believe that necessitates a “cozy relationship”. The responses read, to me at least, with an uncomfortable immaturity and should have been made privately. I am not addressing the argument but the tone.

          • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

            I appreciate you clarifying that.

          • http://www.aliciaeler.com Alicia Eler

            Dearest Lady Ann, I would be happy to, with the express written permission of Marina’s office director, to publish our entire fabulous email exchange. Is that something you would be interested in reading? If so, perhaps then you would also enjoy this story I wrote about Miranda July’s project: http://hyperallergic.com/74383/miranda-july-we-think-alone-magasin-3/

            Also, to be clear, the only part I used from our exchange was a VERY GENERAL response to a query that was not personal in nature. I receive responses like this from PR and marketing people all of the time. If he is indeed Marina’s office director, and receives requests from the media all of the time, then this is a blanket response to all.

            In all of my writing, I ask permission to use quotes from people. Here is an example: At one point, I wanted to include the lovely women of WEIRD DUDE ENERGY in a story; I asked if I could use a quote from our email exchange, and I said look, if you say no, I will definitely not use this. They said no, and so I did not use it. That was the end of our conversation. That was in a personal email exchange.

            Also, I am sorry, but if you are the OFFICE DIRECTOR of Marina Abramovic, an artist whose wish is “to become mainstream” and who is blasting her former fans and devotees alike with links to her facebook URL and Twitter page, addressing them as “MY FACEBOOK PEOPLE” and essentially wittling herself down to a brand of what was formerly a fascinating, transgressive performance artist, then a simple request for a quote from Hyperallergic should not be a problem. In fact, I didn’t hear back from the office director soon enough, so I actually just went along with the story I was writing, figuring she was probably busy and I would try again later. If an artist truly wants to be seen as a pop icon, celebrity or mainstream “artist,” then the first thing to do is start marketing yourself like one! If not, you become a former shell of your artist self, dismissing people who once respected you and your work by telling them to follow you on a lame one-way Facebook fan page and also addressing them in a cult-ish way a la “MY FACEBOOK PEOPLE.”

            If the “grandmother of performance art,” as she has also branded herself (which is super problematic, btw, but that can be for another post) is confused about marketing, perhaps she should get a “grandchild,” “mother” or some sort of extended creative community or perhaps even an office director who knows how to build some type of relationship with the media, rather than tell them to go follow her on Facebook. So, in short, I look forward to learning about how a performance artist can go mainstream and NOT become celebrity—perhaps this is all part of the plan? Or maybe this is indicative of laziness on the part of institutions like MOMA, that are presenting things like Tilda Swinton sleeping as “art.” Come on, seriously?!

            Furthermore, if Marina’s people weren’t so dumb they could have used this entire blog post as some sort of mega-publicity piece, going along with the premise of the piece as an extension of some sort of “The Artist is Present” in an online space. Now THAT would be interesting! Instead everyone is scrambling around, name calling and trying to figure out why we aren’t all complicit Facebook users.

            For a real critique of how the idea of being “present” as a performance artist in the space of late capitalism in mediated environments, please go back to my story and read about An Xiao’s work, “The Artist Is Kinda Present.” If you cannot do that, here is a link to An’s work. It is thoughtful and right-on point: http://www.anxiaostudio.com/art/artistiskindapresent.html

            THIS is the performance art of the future, not some attempts at mainstreamification by Abramovic, who says the sort of bullshit like “good art can only come from suffering”. See Interview Magazine article here: http://www.interviewmagazine.com/film/marina-abramovic-the-artist-is-present-sundance/

            Mainstream representations of artists DO perpetuate this problematic myth that good art can only come from suffering, and that is not good for any creative economies. Artists need to live healthy, well-rounded lives, and inspire others to do the same. I look forward to the future of real performance art and writing about artists whose wish is not to “go mainstream,” but to actually make work that will inspire people, change culture and visualize a better future.

            Now I am off to go write about that work. If you have further questions or want to engage with me, let me know and we can arrange something.

          • Christopher Clary

            Alicia, thanks for all your thoughts around this. Especially sharing a link to your article on Miranda July’s project. I just signed up and can’t wait to receive my first batch of emails. My work treads on similar ground so it’s nice to see others changing the very nature of performance.

            I’m sure these nuances are lost on Abramović, her institute and people. For some reason I’m thinking of Bono and how U2 acknowledged a creative crisis after they grew beyond their former selves. Let’s hope Abramović can do the same. But the brand cares not because her people have Facebook, Kickstarter and email.

            I think some are also misreading you and your followers as being anti brand. I can only say personally, I’m not. Ai Weiwei acknowledges his art practice as brand like yet somehow his oeuvre still feels critical and authentic. What artists as brands interest you?

  • hr_bookreviews

    Thanks so much for this article! I have been critical of Abramović’s work for quite some time. For me, she embodies the narcissistic, look-at-me, culture which, in a very basic way, are the roots of celebrity culture.

    • http://www.aliciaeler.com Alicia Eler

      Yes, and this is the point of my article! Thank you.

  • StevenKaplan

    I imagine if Klaus wanted to speak with her, she could be “present” before September, whatever her shamanistic shenanigans.

  • StevenKaplan

    I imagine if Klaus wanted to get in touch, she could be “present” well before September, whatever her shamanistic shenanigans.

  • Jringstad

    Seems like a case of bad timing, almost like a romantic comedy! Maybe a better time to meet with the artist will come around again for the author. I looked at the MAI Facebook message and found it charming,

  • Chase Danford

    What I’m struck by in this commentary and some others on Hyperallergic is a criticism of Ms Abramovic as having become too mainstream. But she hasn’t really changed her art; she has just made it popular. Collaborating with celebrities is about extending her art even further. In criticizing the artist as celebrity, what critics seem unhappy about is the loss of performance art as a realm inhabited only by the artistic elite. As the author of this commentary wrote, Ms Abramovic addressed her video to “Facebook people,” not to the art world–and Ms Eler finds that problematic. Ms Abramovic wants the power of performance to be available to the general public as a way for people to express themselves in a creative, even spiritual way. I think this is an commendable goal.

  • Quincy Owens

    Great article and all of the ensuing commentary made it all the richer!

  • Victoria Velasco

    This is an interesting article, Alicia, but I can’t help thinking you need to widen your perspective. Why is the notion of the artist as a brand inherently lamentable? By using social media, Marina is reaching a wider audience than she normally might, and I think the same can be said for her collaborations with Jay-Z and James Franco. It seems to me that Marina is in a unique position to demystify contemporary art to an uninitiated audience. I see that as an extremely admirable goal. After all, art is a universal human impulse, and there’s no reason beyond snobbery from the public vernacular of celebrity culture.

    I don’t think performance art died last week. I think it’s been dead, and Marina Abramovic is the only one with a defibrillator.

  • thom thomy

    It sounds like Abramovic is a busy person, not a “brand”. And to be clear, she has been exploring the same set of ideas for about 30 years. I don’t believe that she has evolved into a brand or has turned into anything different than what she has always been.

  • jacko400

    Houellebecq’ian nightmare

  • Lauren Iverson

    It’s this simple– She is a very big name, and must therefore have people to cover for her when she is out. She is not only a performance artist, but also opening an institute. She is a business AND an artist. Of course her work has evolved/changed with time. It’s easy to interpret her recent work as “selling out” and call her a “shell” of her former artistic self. However, this is the wrong way to see things. She is not a shell of the artist she once was, she has reached SUCCESS and is therefore changing her methods to accommodate with the changing times. It’s unprofessional to misquote an email sent in a private correspondence, and it’s inappropriate to report on big names if all you have to say is that the fame has sullied their reputation.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Not sure where you are getting “private correspondence” from since it was a business correspondence from a reporter/critic to an arts organization. And it wasn’t misquoted, her understanding was correct, the individual from the organization miscommunicated.

      Perhaps you have not read the thread? I’d suggest reading it before commenting.

  • owen

    pay me is the new present

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