Artist Marina Abramović during her new iteration of "The Artist Is Present" (photo courtesy Alejandro Mallea)

A mere four-and-a-half minutes into a rehearsal of artist Marina Abramović’s anticipated reenactment of “The Artist Is Present”(2010), onlookers gathered at Sean Kelly Gallery began displaying signs of puzzlement. First, they strained their eyes to scrutinize the artist’s face. Then, they tentatively craned their necks forward. Finally, they collectively migrated to the north side of the gallery, where they were able to get a conclusive, full-frontal look at Abramović. There was no question about it: The artist was asleep.

A gaggle of students from the New School in New York enrolled in the course “The Art of the Critical Review” whipped out their phones to take video footage of the event, progressively zooming in on Abramović’s face until her shuttered eyelids filled the whole shot.

Two stylish twenty-somethings on an apparent date chuckled politely and began theorizing about how the performance was genius in its rebuke of the spectacularization and commercialization that overshadowed Abramović’s prior work. Spotting an eclectic crowd of occults, intellectuals, and bohemians alike that adhered to their approximate preconceptions of the rough and tumble of New York City, a family of visitors from the Nebraskan plains that had meandered into the gallery perplexingly watched what looked like grandma asleep at her rocking chair and soon took their leave, ever more bewildered by city life.   

While those on the sidelines largely appeared bemused, the sitter began exhibiting signs of distress around 10 minutes after he first sat down. While he had initially maintained his gaze despite broken eye contact, he began darting his eyes around the room as chatter grew, wary of becoming the butt of a joke he didn’t understand.

“Is she supposed to be asleep?” the sitter said in a booming voice, affecting a nervous laugh that should have certainly jolted the 75-year-old artist back to life but unnervingly did not. “Hello?” he said desperately, which only further encouraged viewers against associating with him.

The sitter, whose first name is Preston, is the eldest son of a hedge fund manager who had secured the winning auction bid for $24,000 as a birthday gift for his scion.

It was then that the famed artist emitted a loud snore, leaving no doubt among the attendants that she had elapsed into a state of sleep.

There was, however, an apt question that was being entertained with greater poise in a corner of the room by smartly dressed gallery assistants clad in head-to-toe black. Although they were given strict instructions by the artist not to interfere with her performance regardless of what was to take place, they privately wondered if it was their moment to shine, joining the legions of aides, cameramen, and medical professionals who have intervened in the past when the artist has lost consciousness during her performances. They ultimately elected to do as they were told, as much because they wanted to retain their jobs as because they didn’t have any clever ideas.

Amid the confusion, people began filtering out, electing to head out to coffee and brunch. When Hyperallergic left the scene a little over an hour in, the gallery assistants and a New York Times reporter were the only other audience members left standing.

In a terse statement released after the rehearsal, an alert Abramović said: “My apologies to the audience. This time of day is usually my nap hour.”

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Jasmine Liu

Jasmine Liu is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University. Find her on 

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