The performance artist has starved and cut herself for her art, but can she survive celebrity?by Hephzibah Anderson / May 22, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
Marina Abramovi? in The Biography Remix, 2004: “Her critics acuse her work of being exhibitionist and narcissistic. That is to miss the point.” © Anne Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images
It takes a particular skill to turn a mineral tablet into a feast, but that’s exactly what Marina Abramovi? manages as I sit across from her in her New York City office. “It’s so good. This is a chocolate taste. Mmm,” she says in her plangent Slavic accent.
In preparation for her summer exhibition at London’s Serpentine Gallery, she is on a cleansing diet that requires her to fast every weekend for a month. On weekdays she’s allowed a meal at noon plus “snacks.” At 5pm that meant two almonds, which she ate on the hour, and the tablet, which she remembered only seconds ago.
“Oh my god, it’s already 5:25!”
Abramovi? is performance art’s high priestess—or warrior, as she would have it. Anything but grandmother. “I said this like 20 years ago and it was just a joke, then everybody uses it. I’m more warrior. I really go for it, you know?”
During her 40-year-career, “going for it” has entailed driving a van in circles for 16 hours, starving herself for 12 days in a gallery, masturbating in a museum, scrubbing clean 1,500 maggot-infested cow bones, and reclining naked on a crucifix made of blocks of ice, having first carved a Yugoslavian red star into her stomach with a razor (she still has the scar).
These works have won her acclaim and notoriety. Her fame is such that she attracts the kind of meaninglessly overblown descriptions that attend celebrity. According to the BBC’s Will Gompertz, she is the “Picasso of our day,” and in April, Time magazine named her one of its “100 Most Influential People.” The fact that her entry was written by the actor James Franco, plays directly into the hands of critics like Blake Gopnik, for whom “Abramovi?, the daring and experimental young outsider… has now become a histrionic grande-dame artiste.”