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Arts and Entertainment

Exploitation or Art? Forum Discusses Ethics of Marina Abramović's Performance at MOCA Fundraising Gala

Photo by J. Lightning via the LAist Featured Photos pool
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When performance artist Marina Abramović put out a call to performers to participate in a performance piece for MOCA's fundraising gala, she whipped up a frenzy in the art community.

This afternoon LACE is hosting a forum discussing some of the issues that were brought up by the performance (which made some donors clutch their pearls). We've included a link to the discussion, which is supposed to stream live below starting at 1pm. The moderators have invited some of the performers and donors to participate.

Here's a recap of what stirred up such strong reactions in the art community:
One performer who auditioned sent a letter to dancer and choreographer Yvonne Rainer complaining that the performance conditions were exploitative, especially given how little money performers would be paid:

The deal is that the artists/dancers she will hire will spend 3(!) hours under the dining tables of the donor gala with their heads protruding from the tables. They will be sitting on lazy susans under the table and slowly rotating and making eye contact with the donors/diners. Of course we were warned that we will not be able to leave to pee, etc. That the diners may try to feed us, give us drinks, fondle us under the table, etc but will be warned not to. Whatever happens, we are to remain in performance mode and unaffected. What the fuck?! And the chosen performers are expected to be there all day friday and saturday. The hours probably total 15 or more and the pay is $150 (plus a MOCA one year membership!!!). I am utterly appalled. This should be illegal.
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Rainer fired off a letter to Abramović and MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch:

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 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 donor/diners as a means of raising money is another.

MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch gave the Los Angeles Times this statement:

For me this is the way the art world works, it's all about dialogue. I would just hope that when people make allegations like this, they would actually come to see the performance and talk to the performers." He added that Rainer got her information about the project from one performer "with her own personal agenda, who does not represent the hundreds of people who applied for this.

Abramović for her part said that she hadn't heard complaints directly from the performers:

We've heard from a lot of people saying how happy they are to be part of it because they respect my work. They are not being used. They know that my work is about testing mental and physical limits.

This UStream will be streaming the forum live: