"To spend time with Marina Abramovic is a performance."
Inevitably, the Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art was going to draw Marina Abramovic acolytes. It sounds like Mark Allen met at least one at a preview of the new performance-art venue—is it a theater? a gallery? an archive?—in Hudson, N.Y. Abramovic, who is launching the center, has a go-to line that she likes to give press about the project: "It's going to be like Andy Warhol's Factory, without the drugs." But it sounds like the drug just may be Abramovic herself.
When the Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art opens in 2014, it will be one of many performance-art centers, as Abramovic told Allen. But it will be one of few that works so hard to control the circumstances of the viewer. As the artist told The Awl:
First, you will sign a contract that says you must stay for six hours, regardless if there are events scheduled for the entire time or not. Then you will surrender your Blackberry, your iPhone, your watch, your computer… anything that reminds you of time. Then you will be given a white lab coat, because you have become an experimenter. You will also be given sound-cancelling headphones which you can wear when you like.
You will have an attendant that will move you from room to room. You will be sitting inside a futuristic wheelchair that I'm creating specifically for the institute with designers and architects. It will be designed to have hot food contained in one arm, cold food inside another, and a place for liquids to drink. You will never have to get out of the chair unless you need to. The attendant will take you where you want. Even if you fall asleep—which people might after a 6- or 24-hour performance—you will dream of the performance because you will have in a sense not left it. This is all designed for long-duration experience.
If there's one artist who can make those kinds of demands of viewers, it's Banksy. But if there's a second, it could be Abramovic. She cemented her star with "The Artist Is Present," probably the most successful performance-art exhibition that the Museum of Modern Art has ever staged. And she ensured her legacy by endorsing the notion that her performance works could be "reperformed"—they weren't one-time-only actions.
Given the context of all of her demands for participation at the Institute, then, the drive from New York City or elsewhere to Hudson, N.Y., seems modest. But it wasn't Abramovic's idea. Rem Koolhaas came up with that one.
Koolhaas and Shohei Shigematsu are renovating the former theater and tennis court. From Allen's pictures of the interior models, it looks as though the plans are heavily invested in Abramovic's program. Beyond a few small rooms and offices, much of the building is given over to an interior arena of some kind.
From just the few descriptions of Abramovic's plans that have emerged in interviews, the space is almost certainly a factor that will help to determine the Institute's success or failure. There are some artists who can ask for a viewer's rapt attention for hours on end in order to create the correct environment for a performance. But it will never work if the building doesn't do its part.