So Bill and I were bored last night, channel-surfing, and finally decided on this documentary on HBO called Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, about "the grandmother of performance art" and her recent retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. What an experience 14 minutes of this thing was. We could only take 14 minutes though. It was like a parody from the get-go, and as I watched I kept laughing at every move this thing made: the pretentious, pseudo-Phillip-Glass music, the long close-ups of the artist herself with her side-swept braid hanging over her left shoulder like a beautiful snake waiting to whisper to you, and of course the always fun back-story of how performance art was in response to painting blah blah and blah.
The interviews, especially with Abramovic herself and the curators and critics chosen to speak because they love her, had the starchy self-important self-indulgence of a really good Christopher Guest blow-out, except of course nobody was joking around. 14 minutes in, when the doc follows the artist to her backwoods compound and she is making vegetable soup for some of her followers, I kept thinking this just has to be a joke. But then no: the followers get off the Greyhound outside her country estate, walk onto the grounds, take off their clothes and have a fun little group-baptism, in the artist's pond. One follower says into the camera: "I've never thought about life in this way before." Or something like that.
The language used is about how performance makes us question civilization, but I didn't question anything about art or civilization watching the 14 minutes I watched. I just kept laughing. Not from the outrageousness of Abramovic's stunts (like the artist driving a van around in circles for hours screaming outside a museum, or the artist standing inside the museum naked and brushing her hair saying how she must look beautiful). I was laughing at how archaic and dumb performance art looks now that it's been codified and registered as art. And I kept thinking too, about "outsider art" (of course) and how it is right now going through that same codification, that same institutionalization. Doing shocking things is no longer funny or epiphanous or even silly; it's just an exercise in self expression, which kind of deflates all the bull-shit critics and curators say about Abramovic. I kept thinking: who cares? Watch any stupid reality TV show and you'll get the same fix: outrageous people doing stupid things, in clothes or not, is what it is. It doesn't elicit questions, or even interest. It is now officially background noise.
We ended up watching Guest's For Your Consideration on DVD, because somehow actual parody is funnier and more relaxing than unintentional parody I guess. Plus Catherine O'Hara's slam-bang even empathetic skewering of an actress thinking she's on the verge of super stardom somehow reminded me of Abramovic's performance in The Artist Is Present: flaky, sweet, creepy, and in the end so self-indulgent the fact that the empress has no clothes is not even jarring or upsetting. It's just the way things are. No big whoop.
Knock yourself out Marina, right there in middle of the MOMA. I guess some people might be impressed or nostalgic. Who knows?