Monday, April 19, 2010
Don't touch the art!
Most seasoned museum-goers have experienced the cautionary warning from a museum attendant after leaning in too close to scrutinize a painting or sculpture, and visitors would never dream of blatantly touching a work of art on display. These understood standards of behavior don’t seem to resonate with all viewers of performance art. The Museum of Modern Art’s “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present,” on view through May 31, employs a number of nude performers to reenact pieces performed by Abramovic and others in the 1970s.
Having live beings on display as opposed to inanimate objects brings up interesting problems and issues. These performers are works of art for a short span of time and then return to being people. Their protection in the museum setting does not stem from the traditional fear of damage and need for preservation but from concerns of harassment, molestation and damage to their images. Violations by visitors range from inappropriate touching to photography of nude performers (which is forbidden) and stalking on social media such as Facebook. Performers are also subjected to degrading or inaccurate comments about their physical appearance. These interactions and accidents such as stumbling into participants or stepping on their feet usually cannot be prevented.
Despite the risks and discomfort, the performers are often exhilarated by their experiences and have, overall, a positive view of their involvement. An article in the New York Times provides accounts from performers who say “there are plenty of magical moments with strangers, including those who innocently touch bare skin, whisper ‘thank you’ or do improvisational little dances that have the usually stoic performers cracking up.”
One performer, Gary Lai said, “You get immediate feedback. You’re causing a definite reaction in the audience, different from the typical reaction you want in a regular stage performance. This is more about human nature.”
Photograph: Suzanne DeChillo,The New York Times