The performance of the artist Marina Abramović in the MoMA – Museum of Modern Art, N.Y. as a mirror of zeitgeist

Term Paper, 2010

23 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents


1 Performance Art
1.1 Appearance and development
1.1.1 Performance and mass-media
1.1.2 Performance as a weapon
1.2 Performance – a definition

2 Marina Abramovic
2.1 Life
2.2 Work

3 The Artist is Present
3.1 Description

4 Contemporary multicultural world
4.1 Zeitgeist
4.1.1 Modern times
4.1.2 Capitalism and Marketing
4.1.3 Slow-movement
4.2 The meaning of presence
4.2.1 Phenomenon 2.0 and prominence
4.2.2 Performance and religion
4.2.3 Presence through meditation
4.3 Performance as a global movement
4.3.1 Life is performance, is show
4.3.2 Performance Art as a reality check

5 Conclusion



A woman is sitting on a chair. 7 hours a day. Almost 3 months.

What is this about?

The description is confusing. The simplicity stumps the spectator, and meanwhile arouses the curiosity what could be behind that simple concept.

1.565 persons sat in front of Marina Abramović, getting an impression of the spectacle, and much more persons even just watched the whole scenario. But what is it exactly that catches our intention, that brought so many journalists and the media in motion to speak and write about it? Is it simply our curiousness or is there something more deep and secret to be seen.

What is a body, even a body that is not moving, just sitting, possible to tell us? How is it transporting the things it want to say, or the mind behind the body intends to tell. And how can we understand the speech we are going to see?

„My work became through times more simple and thus more difficult. Three months keeping that mental status, face to face with the public, feels like opening your soul.“[1]

Marina Abramović

Maybe it is that citation that sets an inkling of what is happening through this piece of performance. There is a human being, opening its soul in the middle of New York, a city with 8 million inhabitants, more than 20 different nations, 12 languages and a status that we can call multiethnic megacity, a symbol for a globalised world that opens its limits and seems to become one fast and continuous movement.

The following paper tries to analyse the performance piece The Artist is Present by Marina Abramović in context to our contemporary multicultural world, its forces and debilities, considering to contemporary aims and changes as the meaning of time, presence, humanity and the sense of human being in a complex system regarding the performance art history and intentions.

1 Performance Art

1.1 Appearance and development

Performance art, as the term is commonly understood, began to be identified in the 1960s in the United States. It was originally used to describe any live artistic event that included poets, musicians, filmmakers, etc. - in addition to visual artists. Named as Happenings , Events , Fluxus and Body Art , artists as Yves Klein, Allan Kaprow, Hermann Nitsch, Yoko Ono, Wolf Vostell and Joseph Beuys were using new ways and approaches to express themselves. But there were earlier precedents for Performance Art. The live performances of the Dadaists, in particular, meshed poetry and the visual arts. The German Bauhaus, founded in 1919, included a theatre workshop to explore relationships between space, sound and light. The Black Mountain College, which has been founded in the United States by Bauhaus instructors exiled by the Nazi Party, continued incorporating theatrical studies with the visual arts, and pioneered what was 20 years later happening as Performance Art. Also the Beatniks, stereotypically smoking a cigarette, wearing sunglasses and black-beret, while spouting poetry in the coffeehouses in the late 1950s and early 1960s can be added to the performance art-field. Though the term hadn't yet been coined, all of these were forerunners of Performance Art.[2]

“By 1970, Performance Art was a global term, and its definition a bit more specific. ‘Performance Art’ meant that it was live, and it was art, not theatre. Performance Art also meant that it was art that could not be bought, sold or traded as a commodity. Actually, the latter sentence is of major importance. Performance artists saw and see the movement as a means of taking their art directly to a public forum, thus completely eliminating the need for galleries, agents, brokers, tax accountants and any other aspect of capitalism. In addition to visual artists, poets, musicians and filmmakers, Performance Art in the 1970s now encompassed dance and Body Art became more important. Since the beginning of the 1980s, Performance Art has increasingly incorporated technological media into pieces.”[3]

In our days the term of Performance Art is still widening, for example with the pieces by Tino Sehgal, who is performing with other persons by interacting with the public, starting conversations or singing. His performances can be experienced just in that very moment; there is existing no documentation about his projects, neither films nor photography.

A view backwards shows, that performance art is often the climax of an artistic movement. “Whenever a certain school, be it Cubism, Minimalism or Conceptual Art, seemed to have reached an impasse, artists have turned to performance as a way of breaking down categories and indicating new directions. Moreover, within the history of the avant garde – meaning those artists who led the field in breaking with each successive tradition – performance in the twentieth century has been at the forefront of such an activity: an avant avant garde.”[4]

1.1.1 Performance and mass-media

Performance became accepted as a medium of artistic expression in its own right in the 1970s and became the most tangible art form of the period, including genre-types as Body Art , Fluxus , Happening , Action poetry , Intermedia and in modern times Flashmobs or the more political-aligned performances Smartmobs or Die-ins . Also guerrilla theatre , or street theatre , including performances by students and others, have regularly appeared within the ranks of antiwar movements. Although they may not be direct antecedents of art-world performance, their influence, particularly in the United States should be noted. Performance Art became also visible in the movements in cities, as publishing houses, galleries and museums. Art spaces devoted to performance sprang up in the major international art centres, museums sponsored festivals, art colleges introduced performance courses, and specialist magazines appeared.[5]

That shows that performance fitted and fits perfectly in the upcoming media-age, which became set in the phrase The Medium Is The Message by Marshall McLuhan in his 1964 published book: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man . The content is not longer the protagonist in a media-channel; it is the medium itself that should be analyzed because of its great impact on the public. As McLuhan points out the medium as an extension of the human senses and the human body, the performance artists used precisely their body as a medium that can transport information. In that time the exposure of mass media brought the possibility to get attention for performance art through the use of media, as videos and photography in the upcoming magazines.

RosaLee Goldberg fixes this perception: “Whether tribal ritual, medieval passion play, Renaissance spectacle or the ‘soirées’ arranged by artists in the 1920s in their Paris studios, performance has provided a presence for their artist in society. This presence, depending on the nature of the performance, can be esoteric, shamanistic, instructive, provocative or entertaining.[6]

1.1.2 Performance as a weapon

Important is, that in this time appeared the first scripts about the history of performance, demonstrating that there was a long tradition of artists, turning to live performance as one means among many of expressing their ideas, and that such events had played an important part in the history of art. Artists did not merely use performance as a means to attract publicity to themselves. Performance has been considered as a way of bringing to life the many formal and conceptual ideas on which the making of art is based. Live gestures have constantly been used as a weapon against the conventions of established art.[7]

In modern times as already mentioned above performance was also used as a political instrument. But not only for demonstrations in the Smartmobs or Die-ins performance became used as a weapon, also terrorists planned their assassinations as performances being aware of the great influence they create with their actions through a totally calculated mediatisation. At this point should be remembered the 11 September 2001 – the day of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, that was denominated by Karlheinz Stockhausen as the biggest art work in world.[8]

1.2 Performance – a definition

RoseLee Goldberg gives a clear definition of performance including illustrating parameters: “Performance manifestos, from the Futurists to the present, have been the expression of dissidents who have attempted to find other means to evaluate art experience in everyday life. Performance has been a way of appealing directly to a large public, as well as shocking audiences into reassessing their own notions of art and its relation to culture. The work may be presented solo or with a group, with lighting, music or visuals made by the performance artist him or herself, or in collaboration, and performed in places ranging from an art gallery or museum, to an ‘alternative space’, a theatre, café, bar or street corner. Unlike theatre, the performer is the artist, seldom a character like an actor, and the content rarely follows a traditional plot or narrative. The performance might be a series of intimate gestures or large-scale visual theatre, lasting from a view minutes to many hours; it might be performed only once or repeated several times, with or without a prepared script, spontaneously improvised, or rehearsed over many months.”[9]

Thus the challenge is to astound the audience and forcing them to think in new and unconventional ways about theatre and performing, to break conventions of traditional performing arts, and break down conventional ideas about the fixed definition of art. Already the Dadaists were trying to bring art into the daily life, to make your life to art. This approach continued in the work of Allan Kaprow, who tried through his Happenings to dissolve the separation between life, art, artist, and audience.

RoseLee Goldberg underlines the anarchic character of Performance and the very individual approach of every performance artist: “The history of performance art in the twentieth century is the history of a permissive, open-ended medium with endless variables, executed by artists impatient with the limitations of more established art forms, and determined to take their art directly to the public. For this reason its base has always been anarchic. By its very nature, performance defies precise or easy definition beyond the simple declaration that it is live art by artists. Any stricter definition would immediately negate the possibility of performance itself. For it draws freely on any number of disciplines and media – literature, poetry, theatre, music, dance, architecture and painting, as well as video, film, slides and narrative – for material, deploying them in any combination. Indeed no other artistic form makes his or her own definition in the very process and manner of execution.”[10]

“So my kind of formula I could say that for me, the performance is mental and physical structure which you create in the front of the audience in a fixed time and space, you know, and you enter into that construction, and then performance starts. How I can explain what I am really doing as a performance artist? It’s impossible.“[11]

Marina Abramović


[1] c.t.: M. Abramović, in: Interview with C. Bodin, 2010.

[2] c.t.: S. Esaak,, data as at: 15 June 2010

(Original Source: R. Goldberg, Performance: Life Art since the 60s, Thames & Hudson, 2004).

c.t:, data as at: 28 June 2010.

[3] c.t.: S. Esaak,, data as at: 15 June 2010 (Original Source: R. Goldberg, Performance: Life Art since the 60s, Thames & Hudson, 2004).

[4] R. Goldberg, 1993 (1979), p.7f.

[5] c.t.: R. Goldberg, 1993 (1979), p.7.

[6] R. Goldberg, 1993 (1979), p.8.

[7] c.t.: R.Goldberg, 1993 (1979), p.8.

[8] c.t.: citation of Stockhausen,, data as at: 28 June 2010.

[9] R. Goldberg, 1993 (1979), p.8.

[10] R. Goldberg, 1993 (1979), p.9.

[11] M. Abramović, in: Tateshot, Meet the Artist, min: 3:42 ff.,, as at: 22 June 2010.

Excerpt out of 23 pages


The performance of the artist Marina Abramović in the MoMA – Museum of Modern Art, N.Y. as a mirror of zeitgeist
European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)
Performing Arts and Spectacles in a Contemporary Multicultural World
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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marina, abramović, moma, museum, modern
Quote paper
Felicitas Aull (Author), 2010, The performance of the artist Marina Abramović in the MoMA – Museum of Modern Art, N.Y. as a mirror of zeitgeist, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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