Marina Abramovic: Where Did She Go Wrong?

by Paddy Johnson and Whitney Kimball on July 9, 2014 · 13 comments Newswire

Marina Abramovic has made an ad in collaboration with Adidas. In it, we see “the first-ever restaging” of her 1970s performance “Work Relation”. This performance divides workers in trench coats into groups conducting various methods of carrying stones. They learn that a chain of people allows people to labor the longest.

Let’s be clear, in the context of her body of work, this is one performance that never needed to be remade. We already know this shit. It is, however, made much worse in the context of an ad. The YouTube description positions the work in the context of advertising:

The 2014 execution of Abramović’s ‘Work Relation’ revisits these same themes of the original, while also paying tribute to adidas’ partnership with the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

This tribute happens in the form of performers wearing Adidas shoes, and the number of performers, 11, matching the number of players on a soccer team.

It’s so dumb, and it’s so opportunistic, that there seems little useful reflection about the “work” aside from identify where things took their grisly turn.

Was it the Lady Gaga ad? The Times Talk, the widely-publicized details of an elaborate multi-city funeral, or the Deitch banquet with nude performers served to the rich? The birthday party when she made all the guests learn the Argentinian tango and was the only one who could wear red? The Jay-Z collaboration? The HBO documentary, the opera, the Institute. It’s all promo now.



Sven July 9, 2014 at 12:40 pm

If performance art was an art form started in part to distance itself from commodification, perhaps it was the moment when she embraced commodification, though I do not know her work well enough to put this in the context of her specific oeuvre.

strunken white July 9, 2014 at 6:14 pm

every art movement begins imagining itself distant from commodification

Sven July 9, 2014 at 9:07 pm

like the baroque?

strunken white July 10, 2014 at 10:39 am

well, before galleries in the age of patronage may be a different question, but I’ll hedge my claim a little and say instead that every art movement since the late 50s imagines itself distant from commodification, or doesn’t conceive of its market activity as a part of that process. For example: even more recent, apparently corporate-obsessed, network-based work seems to imagine itself “surfing” commodification rather than being subject to it.

Sven July 10, 2014 at 11:14 am

>For example: even more recent, apparently corporate-obsessed, network-based work seems to imagine itself “surfing” commodification rather than being subject to it.

If you mean artists like simon denny or daniel keller, then I don’t think that they started their chosen art form “in part to distance themselves from commodification,” to quote my first assertion. Maybe you mean other artists though.

strunken white July 10, 2014 at 12:47 pm

nope, they’re good examples; to point back to my initial comment, I do think they began imagining their work distant from commodification, by which I mean I don’t think they started expressly wanting to create commodities nor do I think they started with the expectation that their work would become commodified. I was commenting less on the impetus than on the reality it’s met with: not whether or not they began with that as a goal

(which I actually think is arguable in the case of performance art in the 60s; as far as I know neither Abramovic nor most of her contemporaries have much on record about it at the time. It’s been talked about with respect to commodification since, I just have a strong suspicion that the renewed excitement around performance art in the 2000’s created that discussion of conscious independence from commodification based on the movement’s apparent continued “resistance” to it [just that it still wasn’t getting sold as much]. Conceptual art is the first movement I can think of whose early adopters and critics expressly made that an issue in its time and they more or less succumbed, willingly or reluctantly, by the end of the decade. They have also been the blueprint for the lifecycle of most movements since.)

Sven July 10, 2014 at 1:27 pm

If you think they are good examples, how long do you think they went from “I’m going to distance myself from commodification” to “I’m going to make an art object and sell it in a gallery”? I am somewhat familiar with their work, but not enough to compare what they were making before gallery representation to what came after embracing the gallery system. However, even writing that last sentence seems silly as an anti-commodification stance seems somewhat foreign to most young artists. In Daniel’s case, I know enough to be familiar with his embrace of the word “prosumer”, which approaches the commodifying aspect of the art world (/or capitalism as a whole) from a novel stand point, but doesn’t reject it.

strunken white July 10, 2014 at 2:24 pm

the silliness you see is closer to what I mean: I don’t think anyone thinks those 2 things. I do think interest in art starts apart from understanding of commodification in spite of the fact that anything can be sold. Though there are exceptions, people who get into art purely for the money don’t usually get far. (David Hammons: “Anyone who decides to be an artist should realize it’s a poverty trip.”)

With Keller’s work there’s the sense that he’s trying to use consumerism as a material or an accent to his work in a self-aware kind of way, but even just preferring “prosumer” over “consumer” suggests a kind of whitewashed transcendence of consumption via refusal to call it that. I think he still thinks he’s outside of it or playfully straddling some imagined boundary, even if he doesn’t say so. Like I mentioned earlier, the stance imagines itself surfing commodification without getting wet.

(p.s. That isn’t necessarily a criticism of Keller’s work and I’m enjoying thinking harder about this post)

Sven July 11, 2014 at 11:57 pm

>Like I mentioned earlier, the stance imagines itself surfing commodification without getting wet.

I don’t think this is a defendable position: for example how many of the artists we are speaking of were happy to literally commodify their art in the DIS art show at red bull studios (?!) a few months ago.

I’m not necessarily condemning that show for being unabashedly commodified (that was the point of the show), I’m just pointing it out as an example of people getting very “wet” to use your metaphor.

Artists in that show:

Lizzie Fitch, Ryan Trecartin, Amalia Ulman, Bjarne Melgaard, Jon Rafman, Carissa Rodriguez, Simon Fujiwara, Antoine Catala, Daniel Keller, Dora Budor, Frank Benson, GCC, Jogging, K-HOLE, Maja Cule, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Nicolas Fernandez, Nick DeMarco, Shanzhai Biennial, Francis Carlow, Anne de Vries, Timur Si-Qin, Katja Novitskova, Analisa Teachworth, Leilah Weinraub, Christopher Kulendran Thomas and Annika Kuhlmann, Emily Segal, Geir Haraldseth, Toke Lykkeberg, Telfar, HBA, 69, and DIS

strunken white July 12, 2014 at 10:38 am

I’m not sure what’s not defensible about it; making a show of cheerfully submitting one’s work to the process is often a disingenuous performance that just more or less effectively conceals belief in being apart from it.

I really appreciated the recent artforum writeup of dis in general and that show in particular with respect to these issues:

““DISown”’s upfront commercialism served then to rebuke artists—including some who participated in the show itself—whose market value relies on presenting their work as somehow outside the market system.”

and then:

“Throughout the run of “DISown,” I heard numerous artists repeat the line, without irony, that Red Bull is “actually a media company”—the energy drinks were just a side thing.”

Sven July 12, 2014 at 12:14 pm

> making a show of cheerfully submitting one’s work to the process is often a disingenuous performance that just more or less effectively conceals belief in being apart from it.

Perhaps, but was that evident in that show?

I read the small article in art forum where a “marxist” curator was quoted calling out/questioning those practices re DIS but maybe I missed a bigger one recently?

The other two quotes you provided just seem frivolous to me, and the tone of that article was kind of inconclusively blasé in nature. The writer didn’t take a stance either way (maybe she/he was in “reporting” guise)– I’m sure they had an opinion but were too coy to lay their cards out.

strunken white July 12, 2014 at 2:48 pm

The first quote frames the evidence. If it weren’t evident, why would some of the included artists be eligible for rebuke?

I disagree that there was no opinion: The author seems well aware of the risks in the way some of these artists are operating as witnessed by the second quote: how easily red bull could be confused with dis, even by insiders.

I can see how it could be read as blasé, but one of the things I liked is how agnostic he ends up, willing to see good in things his curator-example doesn’t have (or has too much) language to understand. It has to walk a fine line between reportage and a more critical analysis in attempting to take a snapshot of nascent practices with an eye to some of their appeals and slipperiness. It’s not a good/bad/yes/no kind of article and seems more appropriate to the group because of it

Sven July 12, 2014 at 11:44 pm

Fair enough. But if ““DISown”’s upfront commercialism served then to rebuke artists,” who is doing the rebuking?

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