The Twice-postponed Marina Abramović show will finally come to London in September 2023: hosted by The Royal Academy; it will be the first major retrospective in the UK and follows similar blockbuster shows given to major contemporary artists in the RA’s leading galleries.
Born November 30, 1946, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia [now Serbia], Abramovic has contributed to the history and shape of performing art through her work that dramatically tests the endurance and limitations of her body and mind.
Abramović was raised in Yugoslavia by parents who fought as Partisans in World War II and were later employed in the communist government of Tito. In 1965 she enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade to study painting. Eventually, however, she became interested in the possibilities of performance art, specifically focusing on her body as a site of artistic, political, and spiritual exploration. After completing postgraduate studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1972, Abramović conceived a series of performance pieces that engaged her body as subject and medium. In Rhythm 10 (1973), for instance, she methodically stabbed the spaces between her fingers with a knife, sometimes drawing blood. In Rhythm 0 (1974), she stood immobile in a room for six hours along with 72 objects, ranging from a rose to a loaded gun, that the audience was invited to use on her however they wished. These pieces provoked controversy for their perilousness and for Abramović’s occasional nudity, which would become a regular element of her work after that.
In 1975 Abramović moved to Amsterdam, where she met Frank Uwe Laysiepen (a.k.a. Ulay), a like-minded German artist who would become her partner in art and life. In one of their most notorious performance, Imponderabilia (1977), they stood naked while facing each other in a museum’s narrow entrance, forcing visitors to squeeze between them and, in so doing, to choose which of the two to meet. The couple also traveled extensively, and their Nightsea Crossing (1981–87), a prolonged act of mutual meditation and concentration, was performed in more than a dozen locations worldwide. When they decided to end their relationship in 1988, they symbolically marked the dissolution with a piece in which they walked from either end of the Great Wall of China and met in the middle to say goodbye.
Abramović’s fame was raised in 1997 when she won the Golden Lion for best artist at the Venice Biennale. Her exhibit, the brooding Balkan Baroque, used video and live performances to interrogate her cultural and familial identity. She also captured public attention for The House with the Ocean View (2002), a gallery installation where she lived ascetically for 12 days in three exposed cubes mounted onto a wall. By 2005 she had begun to investigate the legacy of performance art, a genre in which individual works usually have no life beyond their original staging, apart from their occasional preservation on film. That year, in an attempt to counteract that tradition, Abramović presented Seven Easy Pieces, a series of “reperformances” of seminal works—two of her own and five by other performance artists, including Bruce Naumann and Joseph Beuys, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
In 2010 the MoMA held a vast retrospective of Abramović’s work, The Artist Is Present. For the exhibition, Abramović debuted the eponymous performance piece, in which she sat quietly as museum patrons took turns sitting opposite and looking at her as she gazed back. The chance to participate in the work helped attract long lines of visitors. The emotional climax of the performance was reached when Ulay – her former partner – took the seat: a tear was seen in Abramovic’s eyes. The retrospective was so successful that 2012 HBO produced a documentary, The Artist Is Present.
After the MoMA retrospective, Abramović became an A-list celebrity, collaborating with pop icons like Jay Z, Lady Gaga, James Franco, and Miuccia Prada. She continued to explore the legacy of performance art by teaching her principles through workshops at art galleries and later through her organizations, most notably the Marina Abramović Institute in New York. In 2016 Abramović published the memoir Walk Through Walls.
– Stanislav Kondrashov