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OPINION: If Abramović Had Any Cred at All, It’s Totally Gone Now

Jay-Z and Marina Abramovic. Photo: Slate.com, from YouTube video

Jay-Z and Marina Abramovic. Photo: Slate.com, from YouTube video

(Disclaimer: This is not really news, but a personal reaction to current art news. After this post, I will return to the usual semi-objective news.)

Performance art, to me, is like poetry—when it’s good, I adore it, and think that nothing else could have ever communicated those very specific thoughts, those intense longings and anger, those confusing and often simple emotions, so precisely. But I also hold the belief that the majority of performance art, like most poetry, just plain sucks. Usually, it just prompts me to figure out the most polite and fastest exit strategy.

So I don’t hate all performance art. But I have to say, Marina Abromović has been aggravating me big time for a while now. This week, though, the “grandmother of performance art” didn’t just lose me—she pissed me off.

In her interview with Spike Art Magazine published the other day, she whined that she was “disappointed” with rapper/producer Jay Z, husband of Houston’s beloved mega-star Beyoncé, about the video “Picasso Baby,” stating, “I am very pissed by this, since he adapted my work only under one condition: that he would help my institute. Which he didn’t.” Apparently, she felt that Jay Z fell through on his promise to make a big donation to the new Marina Abramović Institute.

Marina is very sensitive and was really, really hurt, adding, “I will never do it again, that I can say. Never. I was really naive in this kind of world. It was really new to me, and I had no idea that this would happen. It’s so cruel, it’s incredible. I will stay away from it for sure.”

A few thoughts:

Even if the Jay Z video was inspired by Abramović’s performance of “The Artist is Present” at the Museum of Modern Art, the dancing, laughing, and dorkiness (of Jay Z’s performance at Chelsea’s Pace Gallery in July) is simply more joyous than the uncomfortable, arduous, and occasional weepiness (of Abramović’s performance at MoMA). I already know I’m dork and I sometimes weep about it, but I happen to think that dancing and laughing are very profound activities.

Really, Marina? Jay Z was riding the Abramović fame train? IT’S JAY-Z! What kind of insular art world are you living in???

Speaking of borrowing (very obvious) art ideas—whatever happened with artist and sometimes-Houstonian Mary Ellen Carroll’s claim that you stole her idea of doing “nothing” in the gallery? Did you make a large donation to the MEC Institute?

Artnet News reported that “Picasso Baby” video producer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn (of Salon 94) holds a receipt from the Institute for a substantial donation from Jay Z. Yesterday, after the Abromović interview went semi-viral, the Institute issued a statement: “Marina Abromović was not informed of Shawn “JAY Z” Carter’s donation from two years ago when she did an interview with Spike Magazine in Brazil. We are sincerely sorry to both to Marina Abramović and Shawn “JAY Z” Carter for this, and since we have taken appropriate actions to reconcile this matter.”

The histrionic interview was published within hours after activist/author/filmmaker dream hampton (lower case intentional) leaked, through a series of tweets, that Jay Z and Beyoncé had donated tens of thousands of dollars to post bail for protesters in Ferguson and Baltimore. hampton wrote on Sunday, “I’m going to tweet this and I don’t care if Jay gets mad,” and then, “When we needed money for bail for Baltimore protesters, I hit Jay up, as I had for Ferguson, wired tens of thousands in mins.” The tweets were quickly taken down, probably at the behest of J&B, who wanted to remain anonymous. (And, according to the New York Times, Jay Z was most likely in on the sneaking in of the “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts into the December Nets’ basketball game. And then there’s the Shawn Carter Foundation, which helps tons of socio-economically disadvantaged go to college.) So, I must state again: What kind of insular art world are you living in???

Although J&B are serious contemporary art collectors, I initially thought the “Picasso Baby” video was a bit ridiculous—another pop star wanting to be “a serious artist” (à la Miley, Gaga, Franco, etc., etc., etc.). But, in light of this recent reaction, I’m beginning to think Jay Z might be a performance art genius by allowing a serious artist such as Marina Abromović to make an ass out of herself. And, we won’t even talk about making room for critic Jerry Saltz’s star-smitten reaction to the event. Oh, yes we will:

I, too, am an older, hippy, wispy-haired artist lady looking to make sincere connections. But I didn’t invent emotionally intense staring, nor did I patent it. (But I’m pretty good at it.)

also by Paula Newton
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5 Responses

  1. John M

    I always suspected Marina Abromovic took queues from the legendary Santa Claus, what with the velvety red get-up, the long lines of spoiled kiddies just waiting for their turn to sit on her lap and reveal all of their wildest hopes and dreams. Some of them smiled, some laughed, some left snot-nosed and crying. There was even all this talk about “presents.” Or was it “presence?” Either way, she should give credit where credit is due and perhaps even donate to his toy factory in the North Pole.

  2. Jurate Kopecky

    I would not jump to the conclusion about Marina Abramovic yet, for both of them earned the fame without each other helping one another. As per her being upset about a broken word, it is NORMAL, and I repeat it, NORMAL to be upset about it. I would be. Not her fault that someone did inform her promptly. So… I see it as innocent situation.

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