all arts



Performance Artist Marina Abramovic: ‘Art Should Be Disturbing’

Marina Abramović speaks at Harvard. (Greg Cook)



“I want to have something like Andy Warhol without the drugs.”— Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović, the most prominent performance artist in the United States, is not content with how we, the audience, do our part. So she’s working with architects to design the Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performing Art in Hudson, New York. She aims to convert a theater-turned-public-tennis-court into a showcase for her signature style of long-form “durational,” physically and emotionally wrenching performance art.

“Art should be disturbing. Art has to have the power to open the eyes of the viewer. And art has to be spiritual,” the New York artist, who grew up in the former Yugoslavia, said when she spoke at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design on Monday evening.

Once, in a performance years ago, Abramović cut a star into her stomach with broken glass. Another time she was burned when she accidently lost consciousness inside a flaming star. In 1980’s “Rest Energy,” with her lover and performance partner Frank Uwe Laysiepen (aka Ulay), she held a bow and he loaded it with an arrow, pulling the string taught and aiming at her heart. A different time they passed a breath of air back and forth until they exhausted it and fainted

A rendering of the planned Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performing Art in Hudson, New York. (Greg Cook)

A rendering of the planned Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performing Art in Hudson, New York. (Greg Cook)

“This is not where I’m going to put my own work,” Abramović said of her planned Institute for the Preservation of Performing Art. “This institute in Hudson is where new work is going to be created.”

The new work of the  institute, scheduled to open in 2014, will not just be the performances but training—some might say indoctrinating, reeducating—audiences in what she sees as the proper way of watching these sorts of things. Picture everyone donning lab coats, practicing listening, and watching (sleeping is also tolerated) while sitting in mobile chairs, something like the hovering deck chairs in the Pixar film “Wall•E.”

Below are excerpts from Abramović’s Harvard talk:

  • “I think that artists have so much more responsibility and a very clear function today. … Art should not be happening in nature. Because nature is perfect as it is. It should be happening in disturbed societies.”
  • “I’m not running this place. I don’t want to be director. … I just want to be a consultant. We want to create long durational work in any category. … I really want to use it as a laboratory. It’s a factory for learning, but also a factory for experimenting.”
  • “When you enter as a normal public, you absolutely can’t get in unless you sign a contract that says you’ll stay for six hours.”
  • “What you’re doing is giving me your word of honor and I give you an experience. And this is really a fair exchange because in our world, in our time, nobody has time for anything.”
  • “The idea of durational work is mind-blowing. If you take the simple example of opening the door. If you open the door and you don’t enter, and if you open the door and don’t exit … and you do it for three hours, the door isn’t a door anymore.”
  • “It’s not a painting you can hang on the wall and look at it tomorrow. If you talk about immaterial art, it’s about energy.”
  • “In the institute I will have a space filled with current. Where just the energy will flow and by sitting in the space you can actually feel it.”
  • “It’s going to really revisit ancient cultures and find out about invisible worlds and find out about energies we have completely forgotten.”
  • “Toilets in the institute are going to be for men, women and artists. We’re making a new category.”
  • “Making performance like I do is not something that has to do with the market.”
  • “If you say something is not possible in my mind it’s always just the beginning. And that’s what I do.”
  • “I’m looking at the entire Hudson as a performance place … To build hotels, which will have the television with only one channel and it’s a live feed from the institute.”
  • “It’s so important that … this is not only bringing some kind of international jet set into Hudson, for the privileged. This is really for normal people.”
Marina Abramović speaks at Harvard. (Greg Cook)

Marina Abramović speaks at Harvard. (Greg Cook)


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • jefe68

    I disagree. If all art was disturbing it would be boring. Art needs to transcend experience on some level, but it can do so using beauty. Marina Abramović thinks cutting herself is a form of art, well it is disturbing but I’m not sure one could call it art.

  • UmbrellaHolder

    Marina says, “Making performance like I do is not something that has to do with the market.” That’s baloney. It has everything to do with the market of pretentiousness that pervades the art world today, propelled by the insular masturbatory endorsement of academia. Don’t get me wrong, some of her stuff I like, but I like a lot of other things, too. Celebrity is ALL about the marketplace, though…

  • Clown Town

    This person is so full of BS her eyes are brown. She’s hoodwinked the entire village. Opening in 2014? That’s a laugh. She says she needs $15 million to do so. This will never happen. Where’s the mention of her feces snake? That is certainly art for normal people.

  • marina

    she is fake!

  • ellejoy

    It is common for people to speak in absolutes when trying to make a point. I don’t think she meant that for anything to be art it has to be disturbing in the sense of repulsion or disgust. I think she just means that it should be emotional and powerful enough to stir things up in people, to disturb the still surface, the autopilot that so many of us, myself included, generally operate under. Art should move people, change perspectives. Art should have an effect. This doesn’t mean that it has to be ugly or abrasive or gross. It can be subtle and beautiful, like Marina’s “The Artist Is Present” piece in which she sat for 736 hours and invited people, one by one, to sit in front of her in silence and just gaze at one another. Many people were so unexpectedly affected by the experience that they cried. She understands subtlety and beauty and obviously isn’t trying to imply that art always has to be in the audience’s face. I can completely understand how she &/or her work could come off a pretentious; it is. I get that. But it reaches people. It provokes thought. It is strange and different and, like it or not, inherently bound to incite strong opinions. Sure, she’s made a career out of her work and surely intends to make money off of this project, but I believe she is sincere in wanting to provide an Experience, something that will shake people of their average routine, alter their way of seeing, maybe change something within people that will make them feel different when they leave. She is definitely not for everyone and I can understand why some would not like what she does. I, for one, find her and her ideas fascinating and inspiring.

  • Miguel J. Becerril

    Art should be catartic. Disturb by itself does not guarantee change.

  • keninwi

    I have no art talent. I however know art when I see it. If you have to tell me about your art and why it is art. it ain’t art.