At the Museum of Modern Art premiere of HBO Films’ Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present on Thursday, HBO’s president of documentary programming, Sheila Nevins, admitted she’d had her doubts about the film. “I sort of had heard of her, but I thought she was one of those arty-farty types,” she told Gallerist of the initial pitch. The producers convinced her to visit MoMA and sit across from Ms. Abramovic during her 2010 performance-art installation. “Once I did that, I knew it would play in Iowa. I was so moved. Why? I didn’t mean to be. There’s no reason. But when I looked at her, and she looked at me…” Ms. Nevins trailed off. The film, shot before and during the artist’s MoMA retrospective, is to open at Film Forum on June 13 and air on HBO on July 2.
Klaus Biesenbach, director of MoMA PS1 and chief curator at large of MoMA (he described himself, in introducing the film, as the man who “gets to do all the fun things like Marina or Kraftwerk”), had some insight into what it must have been like for Ms. Abramovic to cede control to director Matthew Akers. “I think she plays with this anyway,” he told Gallerist. “She was the author when she was in the atrium. Marina has had everything she ever did documented.” Mr. Biesenbach is heavily featured in the film, kissing Ms. Abramovic on the cheeks to close The Artist Is Present and admitting, “When I first met her, I thought she was in love with me. Then I realized she’s in love with the world.”
Ms. Abramovic told us that she was still recovering from a show she did last fall at Dasha Zhukova’s Garage art center in Moscow. “The show at the Garage was the biggest show of my life,” she said. “Dasha Zhukova did something so special. First, I never had a show with such dimensions. They have this enormous space the architect built so that every piece has the space it needed.
“Plus, I had brain research from the scientists of Russia on the brain and how it works. We are now collecting, data and in November we’re going to have a meeting in Moscow to actually examine the question.” Ms. Abramovic’s steady gaze is said to affect the chemistry of the brain; her show at the Garage analyzed the phenomenon brainwaves of visitors gazing at one another.
On the Garage show (which Mr. Biesenbach curated) and how it differed from MoMA’s retrospective, he offered, “The most significant difference is that The Artist Is Present is a unique performance and she can do it only here.”
The Garage show was so comprehensive, Ms. Abramovic said, that “I could die now, there’s nothing left to do. It’s satisfying but at the same time frightening. Everything is done and in perfect condition.” There’s but one unanswered question: how her own brain works. “[The scientists] told me—I didn’t know this—that my brain waves were very particular. They are different, they are more frequent, they are more illuminated. It’s reflected in some kind of energy—the reaction of people. There’s much more to it. I’m looking for the doctors to explain to me what really happened to the consciousness. They told me this kind of consciousness is not common. I feel it, but I don’t know what it means.”
Ms. Abramovic declined to watch the screening—“It’s too personal,” she told us—but appeared for a question-and-answer session afterward. Seated onstage for but a moment, she announced, “I’ve been sitting too long,” and stood up to rapturous applause.
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