Dozens of Polish Catholics Show Up to Silently Pray at a Marina Abramovic Show, Claiming She Worships the Devil

The conspiracy theory can be traced to the 2016 US presidential election.

Marina Abramović. Photo courtesy of the Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Torun.

A touring Marina Abramović retrospective has touched down in Poland—and the nation’s right-wing Catholics are not happy about it. The show, “Marina Abramović: Do Czysta/The Cleaner” at the Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Toruń, has caused a panic over a misplaced belief that the famed performance artist worships the devil.

A group of the faithful targeted what they called the exhibition’s “Satanic vernissage” on Friday, according to a translated post from the Facebook group Zawierzam Maryi, Polish for “I Entrust to Mary.” The message urged Catholics to protest the exhibition’s arrival in the country so that the world wouldn’t have an excuse to trot out stereotypes about Polish stupidity.

The museum did not respond to inquiries, but roughly 40 opponents of the exhibition showed up at the opening, a representative for the artist told artnet News. The demonstration was peaceful, according to the spokesperson: “No protests. Just silence and some extremely quiet prayers.”

Rumors of Abramović’s supposed satanic predilections can be traced to the 2016 US presidential election, during which the artist played an unlikely role in Wikileaks’s hack of the email account of John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Abramović had sent a message inviting John’s brother Tony Podesta, a collector and longtime Abramović supporter, to an evening of “Spirit Cooking with Marina Abramović.” (Tony forwarded the invitation to his brother.)

Despite its benign description—“A dinner night with Marina during which she will teach you and other backers at this level how to cook a series of traditional soups”—members of the far right worked themselves up into a frenzy about the event, likening it to a “sex cult” or a “bizarre occult ritual.” (John Podesta ultimately did not attend.)

The $10,000-a-head fundraiser for the Marina Abramović Institute, the artist told ARTnews at the time, was just a “funny name” for a “normal dinner,” and “anybody who wants can read my memoirs and find out that [my work] is far away from Satanism.”

“Marina has no further comments about the Satanist matter simply because she provided plenty of explanations already in the past,” her representative told artnet News.

In Poland, Abramović’s opponents point to photographs of the artist with horns on her head, or posing with the Baphomet-like skull of a goat, as evidence of her devilish ways. The website Krucjata Różańcowa za Ojczyznę (“Rosary Crusade for the Homeland”) decries the exhibition’s presence on Polish soil, particularly during Lent, insisting “we have the right to demand that the rulers protect our country and the nation against ‘art’ which is a personal evil and refers to the dark cults!”

Marina Abramović. Photo courtesy of the Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Torun.

Marina Abramović. Photo courtesy of the Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Torun.

This isn’t the only controversy generated by the show. Local news outlet Wyborcza also reported that the artist community had protested the low wages being offered to performers tasked with reenacting some of the artist’s most famous works.

The issue of payment “has nothing to do with Marina or ABRAMOVIC LLC,” said a representative for the artist. “The museum and the performers discussed and found an agreement. This is all we know.”

The exhibition originated in 2017 at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and has since traveled to venues in Denmark, Norway, Germany, and Italy. It will conclude this fall at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, the artist’s hometown.

“Marina Abramović: Do Czysta/The Cleaner” is on view at the Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu at Wały gen. Sikorskiego 13, Toruń, Poland, March 8–August 11, 2019. It will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, Ušće 10, Beograd, Serbia, September 2019–January 2020. 

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