Marina Abramović’s Serpentine Performance Causes Row

Marina Abramović (with the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art she recieved in 2008) at the screening of Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present during the Vienna International Film Festival 2012, Gartenbaukino. Photo: Manfred Werner / Tsui Via: Wikimedia Commons

Marina Abramović (with the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art she recieved in 2008) at the screening of Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present during the Vienna International Film Festival 2012, Gartenbaukino.
Photo: Manfred Werner / Tsui, via: Wikimedia Commons

When Marina Abramović called the Serpentine Gallery’s co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist to explain the idea for her forthcoming London performance, she said: “This is what I want to do: nothing … there’s nothing. There’s no work, just me, and the public is my live material, and that’s the most radical, the most pure I can do.”

Entitled 512 Hours, the piece will involve the veteran performance artist being present in the gallery six days a week from 10am to 6pm for the duration of the exhibition. Nothing else will be exhibited, although the performance will also feature props and furniture.

In the arts, “nothing” is hardly a new concept. Just think of John Cage and his iconic 4’33″, Yves Klein’s Void, Robert Barry’s Gas series—the list goes on. “Nothing” is also the title of an ongoing project by the New York–based artist Mary Ellen Carroll, known as MEC.

According to the Guardian’s Dominic Rushe, the resonance between MEC’s practice and Abramović’s proposition for the Serpentine Gallery is such that it prompted a group of US–based art experts, including David Joselit, a professor at the City University of New York, and Frazer Ward, professor at Smith College, to write to Obrist asking why MEC hadn’t been formally acknowledged.

They fear that MEC’s work, which was shown alongside Abramović’s in 2012, might be overshadowed by the Serpentine Gallery performance, and that the lesser-known artist may have difficulty  getting exposure in the future.

“I am not prepared to say Marina Abramović is involved in plagiarizing or anything like that,” Joselit told Rushe. “Mary Ellen’s work is in many ways more extreme. I just think there should be a conversation.”

Their request was granted as Obrist and his co-director Julia Peyton-Jones told the Guardian they had organized a discussion between the artists. The show will open to the public on June 11, and is the Abramović’s first major project since her hugely popular performance The Artist is Present held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010.