Director: Matthew Akers
Cast: Marina Abramovic, Ulay, Klaus Biesenbach
Running Time: 106 minutes
Release Date: 6 July
Contemporary art is something that you can’t really get without a little training. Artists will try to tell you otherwise, but don’t listen to them. They love to think that they’re democratically minded. These days, artists need to play the public intellectual — the lecture circuit is a handy earner as grants shrink. Unfortunately, the public bit is often neglected in favour of the intellectual bit. Most artists come from art college, and art college teaches you certain things about what it is to be smart about art. But those with the money to buy art and thus fund art in general haven’t typically been trained to get it, and they need something else to connect with. That’s why all the celebrity artists tend to have the biggest personalities. Art and commerce are only bedfellows in the context of what you might call a cult of charisma; everyone’s a shaman or an addict.
Marina Abramovic gets the cult of personality stuff. The vital, intuitive simplicity of much of the Serbian’s work depends on her art-diva persona, and Matthew Akers’ documentary understands this perfectly. The film is based around an Abramovic retrospective at the New York MOMA in 2010, with an especial focus on the one new piece in the show; a work in which she sat in a gallery space for over seven hours a day, with museum goers free to sit opposite her. The film is a celebration of the kind of narcissism that enables this breed of performance art, and it’s glorious.
That high art and cheap thrills are fruitfully allied is no secret — Abramovic does everything in her power to get everyone’s attention all the time. Tears are often jerked and breasts often flaunted, and it all works beautifully with the middlebrow tone of much of the discussion around Abramovic’s art. Director Matthew Akers doesn’t descend into the pit of critics vs everyone; he isn’t part of the art world, and doesn’t seem to want to analyse or even celebrate her work. It’s all about the personality. And he dodges the fists of the fighty Abramovic detractors, of whom there are many. Instead of sinking to groin-level, which is where their punches are usually thrown to land, he’s too busy engaging with a fascinating individual who’s trying to get some fascinating work done. The focus of the film is the power of her charisma, and the audience is soon charmed too.