BELGRADE – Queen of performance art Marina Abramovic returned home after a 44-year absence for a show spanning over 50 years of her career, which first kicked off in 1975 in the Serbian capital.
The Cleaner opened on Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art offering viewers an unprecedented glimpse into the artist’s mind.
Abramovic launched the exhibition with a press conference at sunrise, at 6:23 a.m local time because for her, sunrise is a time of cleaning, she told reporters.
The show first launched in 2017 in Sweden and on Saturday marked a much-anticipated homecoming that brought the tour to an end.
The title is “a metaphor for the cleaning of the past, of consciousness, a spiritual and mental cleaning of the works to show the public their value,” Abramovic explained at the press conference.
The artist added that she does not like the concept of retrospective because it suggests an artist’s impending death or retirement, and was quick to discard the latter stating that she will surely die working.
The show offers a chronological exploration of the phases of her career, including paintings made between 1960 and 1969, early performance work between 1970 and 1975, her collaborative projects with German artist Ulay (1976-1988) as well as her solo work (1991-2017).
It includes anthological works such as the Rhythms series (1973-1974), Lips of Thomas, Balkan Baroque (1997) or The Artist is Present which was made in 2010 at the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York.
During The Artist is Present, a durational performance piece, Abramovic sat still in a chair for 700 hours for three months and looked deep into the eyes of visitors in silence.
Abramovic said that her status as a star is a responsibility adding that “success comes and goes.”
“An artist should never be the idolize him or herself.
“Work is the most important thing, you must give everything to your work,” she said.
When asked what advice she would give young artists, Abramovic said:
“Be true to yourself, to your own idea, be prepared for sacrifice and fear nothing and no one.”
And for those seeking performance advice?
“Do not act, because acting belongs to the theater, and in performance, you must be here and now, with body and soul.”
Abramovic’s performance art tests the limits of physical and psychological endurance and the body is her main tool, object and subject.
The legendary Rhythm 5 (Belgrade, 1974) performance up until now had only been available as photographs but this exhibition presents it as a video that has been assumed lost.
In the footage, the artist lies within the frame of a blazing five-point star and loses consciousness due to a depleted oxygen supply.
In Rhythm 0, one of her most impactful pieces, the public is invited to do to her body whatever they wish using any of the 72 available objects on a table.
The spread included flowers, lipstick, a knife, razor blades, an ax and even a loaded gun.
After six long hours, the artist later said that a charged and aggressive atmosphere was created which peaked when an audience member pointed the gun to her head.
During the Belgrade retrospective, Serbian and international artists will repeat some of Abramovic’s performances, including some that she presented in the city over 44 years ago.
Abramovic was born in Belgrade in 1946 to a family of communists and, as she recalled on Saturday, she inherited her”courage” from her father, “discipline and will” from her mother “spirituality” from her grandmother.
She said that being a woman had never been an obstacle in her career because “art has no sex.”
“Art can only be good or bad, nothing more,” she said.
At the beginning of her career, Abramovic was engaged in painting, but soon showed an interest in conceptual art and performance, a practice she started exploring in the early 1970s in Belgrade and other European cities.
In 1975 she left Yugoslavia and began an international career that has made waves on the international art scene.