Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

Movies, Documentary
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Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

Settling herself wordlessly in a MoMA gallery for ten weeks in 2010, the Serbian-born Marina Abramovic threw down a gauntlet for all who would submit to her gaze. Did her installation represent the thrilling omega of art—the ultimate expression of “putting yourself out there”? Or, in her serene, holier-than-thou countenance, were viewers observing an exotic empress with no clothes, sucking up attention (and in turn, becoming a conduit for Western spiritual desperation)? To the enormous credit of Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, a Sundance documentary of exquisite openness, no definitive answers are given. We see the crowds lining up around the block, the teary breakdowns of attendees, the endurance test of the performer, and we reckon with it without explanation.

That’s about as honest as an art movie can be; director Matthew Akers sets the stage and generously turns over his project to Abramovic’s intention, creating an alluring, confrontational mood that’s unshakable. By the time the show opens, the chronological doc has also imparted a taste of the exciting life of two outsiders: the title subject and monomonikered Ulay, her onetime German collaborator and boyfriend. Together, they lived off the grid in a bus, chronicled their impulses and brought their mobile weirdness to the ends of its usability. These days, it seems Abramovic trains nubile devotees in the practice of openness on a rural farm in upstate New York—very close to a cult. Rare is the profile that captures so much oddness with so little judgment. You owe yourself a chance to be challenged.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf


Release details

106 mins

Cast and crew

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I found the film, to be quite stunning. Unlike Paul, I am NOT the reviewing the critic. What did he want, NO MUSIC? That woman is really one of a kind, and the film to me simply amazing. "A promotional video for the artist's empire?" Oh please... I think there are people who get it, and then those, like they showed on Fox News, who never ever will be able to. I feel sorry for them!

You missed quite a few visual and aural cues that betray your judgment that the documentary lacks judgment. The music score certainly cues up our emotions incessantly. And the director himself has said during post-screening discussions that his film grew out of deep admiration for the MOMA exhibit, portraying the self-absorbed people sitting opposite Abramovic with affection. So the universal truth still applies: that filmmakers always have a point of view, and this film functions as a promotional video for the artist's empire.