Art Perception Series: Figure

During my recent visits to museums and galleries I have found that instead of looking at the art, I have been preoccupied with visitors’ reactions to various types of artwork. With the upcoming “Figure” show at UFORGE I have to decided to begin my Art Perception Series with how individuals respond to the human figure as subject. I recently saw a documentary called “Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present” which I highly recommend to any of you who haven’t seen it and/or aren’t familiar with the artist. Marina has been regarded as the most groundbreaking and revolutionary performance artist of the 20th century. What’s different about Marina is that she doesn’t paint, sculpt or photograph figure, rather she uses her own figure as the art. Her body being the canvas, she tests her physical limits live in front of large audiences. The purpose of these intimate and rather disturbing performances is to reveal the relationship between artist and viewer. Marina essentially strips away the monetary value associated with art and provides the viewer with an authentic, organic and distinct experience. So the million dollar question that you’re probably all wondering: Is this considered art?

The documentary centers around Marina’s retrospective at the MoMA, “The Artist is Present.” The title speaks for itself for the artist was literally, not figuratively, present. For three months, Marina came to the MoMA 6 days/45 hours a week to give the audience an opportunity to sit across from her and simply stare into her eyes without speaking (see image below).

The most resonant part of the documentary was seeing the individual reactions to her. Almost everyone who sat in that chair ended up having a revelatory experience, walking away with tears in their eyes for Marina virtually acts as a mirror in which the viewer sees themselves.

Let’s play a game called “What’s wrong with this picture?”

Mona and Marina

Take a moment to reflect on the two scenarios. Both are considered art and have been presented in two major international museums: The Louvre in Paris and The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Both include a woman staring directly at you. The Mona Lisa, an inanimate object, sits on a gold frame throne encased in bulletproof glass. Marina Abramovic, a living person, sits on a basic wooden chair, completely unprotected, allowing everyone and anyone to sit across from her.

Let’s now go back to the question: Is Marina Abramovic’s work considered art? Well it comes down to how you define art. Do you define art by its market value or by its psychological impact?