In Defense of Marina Abramovic and Lady Gaga’s Stunning, Art Critic Rage-Inducing Video

Yesterday, the Marina Abramovic Institute released a hysterically bizarre yet gorgeous video of Lady Gaga wandering nude through the woods, wading in a river with cones over her eyes and hugging a giant crystal in Hudson, which sent both art and entertainment critics into a spiraling frenzy of rage. Objecting to Abramovic’s Institute, its Kickstarter campaign, Abramovic’s recent blatant pop culture fixation and Lady Gaga’s near constant attempt to inhabit the role of a performance artist, some even went so far as to tweet that Lady Gaga should reenact “Shoot,” Chris Burden’s legendary masochistic performance piece (Security!).

While there was no shortage of opinions on the Gaga video, I have yet to see someone take a more lighthearted and yes, even supportive view (Does everything have to be so life-or-death serious in the art world? Come on…) of Gaga’s induction into the Abramovic method. And so, *cough* here I go.

Lady Gaga and Marina Abramovic from the MAI video

Lady Gaga and Marina Abramovic from the MAI video

Admittedly, I adore when an artist or entertainer does something to send critics or their supporters to launch their venomous disappointment-induced wrath. For example, I love Jim Morrison’s just plain wretched poetry album American Prayer. I believe if an artist is making a significant amount of people angry, they have hit on a status quo, inherent elitism or boundary that needs to be torn down or investigated. And that is precisely what Abramovic and Gaga have done.

Abramovic, who has been in the art world’s cross-hairs for awhile due to her hobnobbing with the insufferable James Franco and dancing (?) with Jay Z, really hit the anger jackpot with her Marina Abramovic Institute.

Marina leads the exercise at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, England in 2009 (© Marco Anelli via marinaabramovicinstitute.org)

Marina leads the exercise at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, England in 2009 (© Marco Anelli via marinaabramovicinstitute.org)

Since her exhibition The Artist is Present at The Museum of Modern Art, Abramovic has been concerned with her own legacy, as well as the preservation of performance art. Following these issues, Abramovic launched her own Marina Abramovic Institute in Hudson in Upstate New York. The Institute will be home to the Marina Abramovic Method, a 6-hour long program “designed to heighten participants’ awareness of their physical and mental experience in the present moment.”

The Levitation Chamber (© OMA; via marinaabramovicinstitute.org)

The Levitation Chamber (© OMA; via marinaabramovicinstitute.org)

From wearing lab coats constantly to drinking water as slowly and as consciously as possible and basking in something called the “Levitation Chamber,” participants in Abramovic’s Institute will be able to experience wonderfully bonkers sensory deprivation techniques, which actually sound like they might work to put participants in a meditative state or else just create a cult of performance art lovers.

In John Waters’s fantastic interview with Big Think, he compared understanding contemporary art to joining a biker gang. Abramovic has taken this hilarious comparison one step further and turned contemporary art into a cult. Who wouldn’t want to join?

Aside: I hope Abramovic begins terrorizing public spaces with her zonked out masses as they lay naked in a Walmart for 6 hours, upsetting both mullet-wearing (I say this from both a place of love and personal experience) shoppers and snooty art critics. That idea is up for grabs, Marina, call me.

Which brings us to the Lady Gaga video.

Gaga and her crystal

Gaga and her crystal

While like any tired old queen, I sighed and rolled my eyes when Gaga began to act as the voice of a generation of queers with “Born This Way.” While I should love Gaga as much as I love Madonna, I just can’t force myself, revealing aptitude for crankiness far beyond my years.

However, Gaga’s immersion into the Marina Abramovic technique does not signal the death of  performance art, just as Jay Z dancing with Abramovic is not the death of performance art. Certainly not completely unexpected, Gaga’s aesthetic influences have always been women performance artists such as Abramovic.

Just looking at the video itself, the imagery is undeniably strangely beautiful from the woodland surroundings to Gaga’s contorted naked body. It surely does makes me want to go prance around naked in the woods and grope crystals.

Gaga doing...whatever is she's doing. I want to do it too!

Gaga doing…whatever is she’s doing. I want to do it too!

Attempting to use Gaga’s video as proof of both Abramovic and Gaga’s media-whoring, the extreme knee-jerk reactions to this video raise some serious questions. Why can’t Gaga participate with Abramovic? Similarly, why can’t Abramovic collaborate with Lady Gaga? This boundary-policing between perceived mainstream culture and art, particularly in the past couple weeks, points to a larger problem with critical thinking about artists who gain popularity.

Partially due to her own robe-wearing accord, Abramovic has become in the eyes of many a type of performance art saint, as seen in the breathless awe some of my peers and her fans display in her physical presence. However unlike a real saint or a nun, Abramovic has not taken a vow of poverty or purity.

And here lies the problem–there is an expectation that Abramovic should maintain an underground, meaning poverty-stricken, performance art status rather than attempting to attract mainstream interest in order to educate a wider public about performance art through the use of media icons such as Lady Gaga.

I just want to pose one question to all the haters: What could we learn, gain or communicate if we, as art critics, could throw away these assumptions?

3 thoughts on “In Defense of Marina Abramovic and Lady Gaga’s Stunning, Art Critic Rage-Inducing Video

  1. This is the most refreshing commentary that I have read so far. Our culture likes to keep their “real” artists “underground and poverty-stricken.” God forbid an artist cross those invisible boundaries and have some measure of success while they are alive.

    Very few people knew of Marina Abramovic for the first half of her life. I think she’s paid her dues and is allowed to have some fun now. The art police need to calm down.

  2. Glad to see you defending Abramovic. She thinks big and has totally changed the parameters of performance art. Transforming it into a participatory six hour course (experience) is brilliant.

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