Marina Abramović: Personal Archaeology

Marina Abramović (born in 1946 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia), is without question one of the most important artists of our time. She was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Artist at the 1997 Venice Biennale for her extraordinary video installation/performance piece Balkan Baroque. I was fortunate enough to have a lengthy conversation with the artist, just days before she began her latest ongoing performance, The Artist Is Present at MoMa in NYC. She is an incredibly fascinating woman, dedicated to her craft but always in pursuit of taking her work, moreover, herself to the next level pushing all boundaries aside.

Personal Archaeology a new show opening at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York City, is an intimate look into the development of Abramović as a seminal artist, beginning with her historic performance work of the 1970s through to her most recent work from 2010. Private Archaeology, a sculpture exhibited in the first gallery, has not been shown before in the US. This highly personal work from 1997-99 consists of a large wooden cabinet containing numerous drawers in which artefacts from Abramović’s life are displayed. The public is encouraged to look through the drawers to view the variety of revealing objects and mementos that Abramović has collected, including photographs, handwritten notes and other material that has influenced her work.

The exhibition also includes an entire gallery dedicated to photographs from one of Abramović’s earliest performances, Rhythm 10, in which she stabbed a knife between her splayed fingers in rapid motion, changing the knife each time she cut her finger. She repeated this process twice; tape recording it on the first occasion so that she could mimic the movements on the second.

A selection of Abramović’s iconic photographs is installed in the main gallery, providing a visual time line of the evolution of this pioneering performance artist. Works such as Rhythm O, Lips of Thomas, Carrying the Skeleton and Cleaning the House chart the trajectory of her career over the last 40-plus years. The main gallery also includes one of her newest videos, which is a startling image of Abramović, her face covered in gold leaf, staring out at the viewer. The faint ruffling of the gold leaf is the only motion in the video and draws the viewer in close for further inspection, whereby they ultimately find themselves meeting Abramović’s direct gaze.

Her work is included in many major public collections worldwide including: The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Holland; the Van AbbeMuseum, Eindhoven, Holland; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Tate Modern, London.

Personal Archaeology is running concurrently with the major MoMA exhibition, Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present, on view at the museum until 31May. During the MoMA’s first-ever retrospective of a performance artist, Abramović is performing daily during the entire run of the exhibition, for a total of over 700 hours, in her longest solo piece to date. Abramović sits in silence in the museum’s atrium during public hours, inviting visitors to take the seat across from her for as long as they choose within the time frame of the museum’s hours of operation.

Personal Archaeology opens May 8 and continues until 19 June at the Sean Kelly Gallery, NYC

To read more about Abramović, read the current issue of Aesthetica – for an in-depth interview with the artist.

Image © Marina Abramović
Golden Mask (2009) courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery.