Abramovic MOCA Gala Performance Denounced As Exploitation
Yvonne Rainer writes to MOCA condemning Abromavic’s planned performance in which underpaid actors are objects of titillation and humiliation for wealthy gala goers
Dancer, choreographer, and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer has written a letter to LA’s MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch condemning the planned performance of artist Maria Abramovic at this year’s MOCA gala. Rainer’s letter (see below, in full) denounces Abramovic’s upcoming performance as ‘grotesque’ and ‘verg[ing] on economic exploitation’. Several art figures have joined the charge, with Douglas Crimp, Tom Knechtel, and Monica Majoli acting as signatories.
The anger stems from what Abramovic is asking of the performers, with many allegedly feeling ‘taken advantage of’. The performance apparently demands that the performers endure three hours with their heads protruding through the gala's tabletops, while being slowly rotated in circles. Meanwhile, in recreation of Abramovic’s famous ‘Nude With Skeleton’ performance, fellow performers will be asked to lie upon the tables naked with fake skeletons on top of them.
A leaked email by one of the performers explained how ‘Whatever happens, we are to remain in performance mode and unaffected’: ‘we were warned that we will not be able to leave to pee, etc. That diners may try to feed us, give us drinks, fondle us under the table, etc’. To top it all, participants will be paid a mere 'sub-minimal' $150 and receive a token offer of one-year MOCA membership.
The letter sent by Yvonne Rainer argues that the ‘desperate voluntarism’ of the performers ‘says something about the generally exploitative conditions of the art world’ – ‘that people are willing to become victims of a celebrity artist in the hopes of somehow breaking into the show biz themselves. And at sub-minimal wages for the performers, the event verges on economic exploitation and criminality’.
For Rainer ‘This grotesque spectacle promises to be truly embarrassing’, and she expresses dismay that MOCA would ‘stoop to such degrading methods of fund raising’; ‘Must we re-name MOCA “MODFR” or the Museum of Degenerate Fund Raising?’
Abramovic denies the validity of these allegations, believing that the end justifies the means: ‘the performance itself will bring some kind of dignity, serenity, and concentration to the normal situation of a gala, and actually change the energy of the space and bring the performance into an everyday life situation’.
Other big names associated with this year MOCA gala – where tickets range from $2,500 to $10,000, and table prices range from $25,000 to $100,000 – include Debbie Harry, Larry Gagosian and Dasha Zhukova.
And here is Yvonne Rainer’s letter in full:
November 9, 2011
To Jeffrey Deitch:
I am writing to protest the “entertainment” about to be provided by Marina Abramovic at the upcoming donor gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It has come to my attention that a number of young people will be ensconced under the diners’ tables on lazy Susans and also be required to display their nude bodies under fake skeletons.
This description is reminiscent of “Salo,” Pasolini’s controversial film of 1975 that dealt with sadism and sexual abuse of a group of adolescents at the hands of a bunch of post-war fascists. Reluctant as I am to dignify Abramovic by mentioning Pasolini in the same breath, the latter at least had a socially credible justification in the cause of anti-fascism. Abramovic and MOCA have no such credibility, only a flimsy personal rationale about eye contact. Subjecting her performers to public humiliation at the hands of a bunch of frolicking donors is yet another example of the Museum’s callousness and greed and Ms Abramovic’s obliviousness to differences in context and to some of the implications of transposing her own powerful performances to the bodies of others. An exhibition is one thing — this is not a critique of Abramovic’s work in general — but titillation for wealthy diners as a means of raising money is another.
Ms Abramovic is so wedded to her original vision that she – and by extension, the Museum director and curators — doesn’t see the egregious associations for the performers, who, though willing, will be exploited nonetheless. Their desperate voluntarism says something about the generally exploitative conditions of the art world such that people are willing to become victims of a celebrity artist in the hopes of somehow breaking into the show biz themselves. And at sub-minimal wages for the performers, the event verges on economic exploitation and criminality.
This grotesque spectacle promises to be truly embarrassing. We the undersigned wish to express our dismay that an institution that we have supported can stoop to such degrading methods of fund raising. Can other institutions be far behind? Must we re-name MOCA “MODFR” or the Museum of Degenerate Fund Raising?
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