Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present ★★★½

The words ‘performance art’ would normally have me running in the opposite direction as it conjures up images of Miranda July flailing her arms around whilst wearing a stuffed pigeon on her head. For this reason I was rather dismissive of a documentary about the grandmother of performance art - Marina Abramovic.

The Artist Is Present is conventional portrait that documents Marina’s career as well as following the preparations for her retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. The retrospective brings together her most famous work as well as providing a new centrepiece for the show where she sits in silence and allows the public to sit opposite her. It is both an art piece and feat of endurance as the unspoken connection between artist and audience is explored.

Over a 30-year career her pieces have challenged audiences and confronted the limitations of her own body. It is interesting watching the documentary as a sceptic, and whilst it hasn’t completely converted me to performance art I can at least appreciate the intent and dedication of the artist, particularly during a number of the profound connections made during the show’s centrepiece.

The contradiction between the provocative performances and the the person behind the art also adds an interesting friction to the film. Away from the retrospective she is a humble, open and unpretentious figure which is rather at odds with the preconceived expectation of a performance artist. Although some of the gushing contributors threaten to turn the film into hagiography Marina’s candidness makes sure the documentary feels genuine and worthwhile.

The greatest compliment I can make about Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present is that it turns a subject I had no interest in into a moving and thought provoking examination about art and the artist.