Marina Seduces Everyone

Don’t you dare call it a stunt.

If you’ve read anything about Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, a documentary homage to perhaps the world’s greatest living performance artist, then you know that the film—and its 65-year-old, Belgrade-born subject—is a cynicism obliterator. Yes, performance artists have a rep as shock mongers. They give birth in galleries. They impale themselves on Volkswagen Beetles.

But Abramovic’s work routinely melts even the most art-hardened haters. Consider her two most famous pieces: 

  1. In 1988, Abramovic and her lifelong partner in life and art, the German performance artist Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen), decided to part ways. The break-up went like this: The two started from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China and began to walk toward one another. When they reached the middle, they said goodbye. It took three months.
  2. In 2010, for her career retrospective at MOMA, Abramovic, dressed in a long red gown, sat silently at a table. For seven hours a day, six days a week, visitors could come to the museum and sit across from her. She would not speak or visibly emote. She was simply present to share a moment with whoever sought her out. The performance totaled 730 hours. It is regarded as one of the most monumental work of performance art ever executed.

Both performances—the second one is the jumping-off point for The Artist is Present—are epic acts of intimacy; grand, romantic gestures that radiate a slow-burning tenderness, their half-lives measured in decades.

The film’s creator, Matthew Akers, laudably matched his subject’s poetic stamina. He followed her for three years and filmed every minute of her epic MOMA performance. The resulting documentary is a feat unto itself. Its regional premier this weekend, at the Walker, won’t quite be an Abramovic performance. But it’ll be close.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present
Regional premiere
Friday, July 20, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 21, 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 22, 3 p.m.
$9 ($7 students and Walker members)
Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.