May 31, 2009
New York, NY
Elevation 80m

The Marina Abramovic fever has reached a height like none has seen before.  Nearly every week, there is an article about the exhibit or the re-performace in a major media outlet. I alone have counted at least 5 pieces published by the New York Times over the course of the 75 days Abramovic has sat in the atrium in MOMA.  I do not remember any contemporary artist commanding the attention of the press like this ever before. Or mine for that matter.

Last Thursday I went back to MOMA wanting to see if I could have another chance to sit with Marina before the exhibit comes to a close today. I was running late. I made it up the stairs at 10:40am (10 minutes after opening) and saw the atrium was packed. The line to sit with Marina wraps nearly all the way around the square. I talked to a couple of people who were in the very front of the line and they told me that they had been waiting outside of MOMA since 7am this morning. I meet Paco Blancas, the make up artist who have sat with Marina 21 times and a few other people that I recognized from my afternoons spent there and then went upstairs for the re-performance and the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit.

I am half way through the Cartier-Bresson exhibit, whose work I am a fan of, when I realized that I have not taken any of it in. All I could think about are the footages of Abramovic next door or of her sitting silently 4 floors below. Marina is magnetic. It is as if no art can exist in the whole of MOMA while she is there. She is present, so you must pay attention. I quickly left the Cartier-Bresson and will have to come back for it when I am no longer distracted by Marina Abramovic.

I arrive at MOMA Saturday morning at 6:15am. There is already a line outside waiting. Tricia has come down from Maine the night before and we had agreed to meet at MOMA so that she can hopefully finish  the third installment of her efforts. She will be sitting in a white version of the dress that Marina is in. Tricia has always been a step behind in the costume and today with both of them in white, it will be as if Tricia has finally caught up. I am number 27 in line and it is only 6:15am on a holiday weekend. The first guy in line was outside waiting since 9pm Friday night. Have we suddenly become art groupies? Many hours later, we are finally inside of MOMA, before Abramovic, ahead of the eager crowd, the first 30 people. Today, Marina has decided  that there will be a 30 minute time limit for each sitter as the lines are long and this is the only way to impose any kind of fairness and system to it all. At this juncture, so near the end, it would seem cruel if some one sat down and simply sat all day.

However, even with the 30 minute time limit, the chance of Tricia and I sitting is little to none. Yet we wait. We sit around the square and just watch. Sometimes we are there, present, other times we are just people watching and chatting about art and what not. HBO is making a film about Abramovic and the film crew is here. The curator from MOMA, Claus, is there and is being interviewed. Claus sees a guy in the crowd and greets him. Tricia and I guess that he is an artist, most likely a painter. The painter turns out to be Spike Jonze.  No one fusses over the presence of the film crew, Claus or even Spike Jonze.

Finally, today, the last day of The Artist is Present. How will it end I wonder? Who will be the last person in the seat opposite of Marina? Will the security simply usher everyone out with Marina still sitting so that it will be as if the Artist is ALWAYS present?

I arrive at MOMA about 3pm this afternoon, the atrium is full. I find a way to sneak into the front and watch. The sittings are much shorter today, it seems like the time limit is about 15 minutes at best. I say hello to the security guards that I know and have befriended. The crowd gets denser and larger by the minute. I recognize a lot of faces in the crowd, both from my afternoons there and from looking through the portraits online. Marina is very lively today, energetic and full of small movements. Several times, she puts her hand to her heart, something that I have only seen the sitters do before. At one point, I thought she was crying. A lot of tears today. A lot of the sitters are crying.

Just before 4pm, Orlando Bloom appears in the crowd with his girlfriend. No one notices. Nothing exists but Marina. The re-performers all make their way down from their posts on the 6th floor, all dressed in their white lab coats and sits outside the square with the rest of us for the remaining hour. Tehching Hsieh, another amazing performance artist is in the crowd as well. He sits down with Marina. It was slightly amazing to see them two, face to face. It felt like two lions in the square, each challenging one another and yet pay homage to each other at the same time. It is now 4:40pm, Claus the curator takes the seat. I feel slightly angry as his presence in the seat today. It feels like a PR move. HBO is here filming, of course it would make sense for him to sit today. Perhaps he has sat on other days, but his presence in the seat opposite of Marina today is not about the art but about the publicity. Yet I spin another angle on this and all of sudden, it is Marina against the institution. Suddenly there is poetry where there was none before. Claus blows his head, give Marina Abramovic a kiss on the cheek and The Artist is Present comes to a close.

Marina gets up off the chair and she is radiant, she is magnificent. Marina Abramovic takes her curtain call with the commanding grace of Maria Callas. She hugs each one of the re-peformers, the security guards who have maintained order all of these days, Paco Blancas and many of the other frequent sitters in the crowd, Claus, the HBO crew and many more. She is giving her own thanks for their time and effort. She doesn’t leave anyone out. This attention and graciousness to all of those who have supported her and help her make this possible made me love her more. After a 15 minute (and well deserved) curtain call, Marina Abramovic and all the re-performers exits the atrium and it is no more.

Marina Abramovic made contemporary art history today. She singularly changed the role an art institute and the nature of art to its viewers. A woman made history today. A woman changed the rules today without a single word, she was simply present.

Learn more about Marina Abramovic here.