Marina Abramović and Ulay, Whose Breakup Changed Performance Art Forever, Make Peace in a New Interview

An ugly lawsuit behind them, the duo reunited at the Louisiana Museum.

Marina Abramović, The Artist Is Present (2010), Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abramović's former partner Ulay joins her during her performance at her career retrospective.

It’s been a tough few years for Marina Abramović and Ulay, the former longtime romantic and artistic partners. But their tumultuous relationship has turned a corner with a heartfelt reunion at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, outside Copenhagen. The occasion was Abramović’s first major European retrospective, and the warm meeting was all the more meaningful given their recent acrimonious disputes.

“All the anger and all the hate” is behind them now, Abramović told Christian Lund of the museum’s Louisiana Channel. “I think of this life that left this really beautiful work that we left behind, and this is what matters.”

Marina Abramović and Ulay at the Louisiana Museum. Courtesy of Louisian Channel.

Marina Abramović and Ulay at the Louisiana Museum. Courtesy of Louisiana Channel.

Lund interviewed both artists, separately, for The Story of Marina Abramović and Ulay, a new film that traces the arc of their love story. “Looking back, this relationship was extremely important for the history of performance art,” Abramović said.

According to the  Art Newspaper, which first reported on the reunion, the video came about after Ulay made an unexpected appearance at Abramović’s lecture at the Louisiana Museum in June.

Marina Abramović and Ulay. Courtesy of the Louisiana Channel.

Marina Abramović and Ulay. Courtesy of the Louisiana Channel.

Rich with intimate personal photographs and archival footage, the film features such highlights as an excerpt from an Italian documentary shot in 1977, when the pair were living out of a Citroën minivan. “That was the two people in love, doing the work,” said Abramović.

In the interview, the two also recall their reunion—after more than 20 years of not speaking—at New York’s Museum of Modern Art during Abramović’s endurance-based performance The Artist Is Present. Abramović’s performance was essentially a solo version of their earlier shared work, Nightsea Crossing (1981–87), in which the duo would sit facing one another for hours on end.

Nightsea Crossing was the beginning of the end for us,” Abramović admitted. During one performance, Ulay could not match her endurance abilities. She continued to sit after he gave up, facing an empty chair.

The pair broke up in 1988—fittingly, at the conclusion of a performance in which they started at opposite ends of the Great Wall of China and met in the middle. (They originally intended to marry there.)

“For her, it was very difficult to go on alone. For me, it was actually unthinkable to go on alone,” recalled Ulay, who withdrew from the art world in subsequent years. “If love is broke it turns to hate,” he added. “She hated me.”

Marina Abramović and Ulay, <em>The Lovers</em> (1988). The piece took three months to complete, and marked the dissolution of their romantic and professional partnership. Courtesy of the artists.

Marina Abramović and Ulay, The Lovers (1988). The piece took three months to complete and marked the dissolution of their romantic and professional partnership. Courtesy of the artists.

That rancor resurfaced in recent years, with Ulay bringing a lawsuit against his former partner in 2015, claiming she had violated a contract regarding their shared work. In September, a Dutch court ordered Abramović to pay Ulay €250,000 ($280,500) in royalties.

That ugliness, it seems, is now behind them. “We came to this moment of really peace,” Abramović said, adding that her feelings for Ulay are very different than they were just a year ago.

“Everything naughty, nasty disagreements or whatever from the past, we dropped,” Ulay said. “We became good friends again. That’s a beautiful story actually.”

Watch the interview below:

Marina Abramović: The Cleaner” originated at the Moderna Museet, Exercisplan 4, 111 49, Stockholm, and is on view at the Louisiana Museum, Gl. Strandvej 13, 3050 Humlebæk, June 17–October 22, 2017.

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