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Marina Abramović and Ulay face off during the former’s performance “The Artist Is Present” at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010. (screenshot via YouTube)

Marina Abramović, the world’s only household name performance artist — Shia LaBeouf notwithstanding — is being sued by her former collaborator and lover, the German artist Ulay. The lawsuit is the latest and most dramatic development in an ongoing battle between the former art world power couple since their separation in 1988.

According to the Guardian, Ulay (real name Frank Uwe Laysiepen) claims Abramović has violated a 1999 contract they both signed regarding works they created together. He has a grocery list of accusations, claiming that Abramović has failed to credit him on many works they co-created, has given him inaccurate statements on sales, and has only paid him four times in the 16 years since the contract was signed. All this is allegedly against the terms of the contract, which stipulated that, after Ulay sold his physical archive to Abramović, 50% of profits would go to the gallery, 30% to Abramović, and 20% to Ulay. Ulay also claims Abramović prevented him from including images of their joint projects in his 2014 book, Whispers: Ulay on Ulay.

“We were living and working in total unity,” Ulay said in an interview while he was working on Whispers. “We used to feel as if we were three: one woman and one man together generating something we called the third. Our work was the third.”

Of course, Abramović isn’t too thrilled about this feud over “the third,” especially as an artist who’s previously been reluctant to pay her workers. She has flatly denied Ulay’s claims and her lawyer says they’re intended to tarnish her reputation.

The case will be heard in Amsterdam later this month.

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Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

17 replies on “The Artist Is Pissed: Ulay Sues Marina Abramović”

    1. Were that Martha and Carolee were household names. Yoko and Laurie are (if not for their performance art primarily).

      1. Duchamp? Um, mine… everyday as I descend the staircase sans clothing, then play chess! Isn’t this everyone’s routine??

  1. Perhaps, the performance “The Artist Is Present,” is the artist recognizing subconsciously that she had some things to face.

  2. I remember watching the documentary, in the sequence where she has all the people that volunteered for the ‘Artist is Present’ she is talking about how they all need to spend time together to become spiritually attuned to one another, or something, but it felt more like she was telling everyone to fall in line and get used to doing everything she tells them to do.

    1. Yeah sounds like their spiritual attunement is in direct correlation to their willingness to work for free.

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