Marina Abramovich imposing herself on Firenze

Marina Abramovich is in Firenze. She has taken possession of Palazzo Strozzi for no less than four months, with the exhibition ‘The Cleaner’. I liked the exhibition because it gave me a glimpse into who Abramovich is and what has informed her art. I dislike Marina Abramovich because of her insistence on imposing her personal problems on the rest of us by use of art, a desire that the exhibition makes blatantly clear.

Marina Abramovich, for those that don’t know, was educated at the Belgrade Academy of Fine Arts, where she studied painting. She very clearly had and probably has a need to express herself, and so the artistic profession was a natural choice. A small room of the exhibition is dedicated to her paintings, some of which I quite like.  Her attraction to accidents and car crashes and her attention to the feebleness of the human body are very noticeable, however, and it doesn’t take much psychological insight to conclude that the artist was a troubled young woman. The most telling however is her self-portrait, which is dark, colourless and depressive, and features the artist as a lost soul in a cruel world.

They say that those that choose to study psychology, do so because they themselves have a need for therapy. I think art can have the same function and some artists, perhaps most, probably become artists because they need to express something they are unable to express in other ways. The difference lies in the general validity and interest of what they express, beyond the utility of the expression itself – for the artist. That’s where I think Marina Abramovich is out of place. Her sorrows are simply not that interesting, even if there is a certain level of universality in them – the pain and confusion she seems to feel, is something we all feel have to deal with from time to time.

In a recent post I wrote, I compared art to strings of feelings and emotions spun inside of us. Abramovich clearly plays on the thick, emotional strings that hurt when you stir them too much, and I guess it is our eternal desire to play with fire that attracts us to what she does. But to cut yourself, set yourself on fire (or almost) and experiment with medicine for schizophrenia, get naked with your boyfriend, all of it on stage, tells me of a grandiose egocentricity coupled with an acute incapacity to communicate in less extraordinary ways.

Any piece of art inserts itself into two continuous dialogues, one with the audience and one with art itself, what has come before and what will become after. What Abramovich did immediately became interesting, because it was different from what artist had been before, and it involved a constant pushing of borders. At the same time, the era in which Marina Abramovich made her breakthrough, the seventies, was probably one where the audience was particularly receptive to her style and experimentation. That decade has passed, however, and with some more maturity, perhaps we can now say that Marina Abramovich’ time also has passed?

Firenze probably has more art per square metre than any other city in the world, and plenty of that art will always have validity, its time will never pass. Whereas art historians and artist will and should find something interesting and intriguing in Marina Abramovich, most of us will probably be better off spending our time elsewhere.


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