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Yvonne Rainer Accuses Marina Abramović and LA MoCA of Exploiting Performers

As Hyperallergic’s Hrag Vartanian reports, Yvonne Rainer has issued a statement criticizing Marina Abramović’s performance planned for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s gala, to be held at the museum this Saturday. Rainer had received a letter from someone auditioning for Abramović’s piece describing what Vartanian calls the “cruel conditions” that the performers will be facing. “They will be sitting on lazy susans under the table and slowly rotating. [. . .] 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.”

In response, Rainer, along with art historian Douglas Crimp and choreographer Taisha Paggett, wrote to LA MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch to “protest the ‘entertainment’ about to be provided by Marina Abramović at the upcoming donor gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art.” After reluctantly comparing the piece to filmmaker Piero Pasolini’s work Salo, but clarifying that Pasolini’s piece actually had a worthwhile antifascist message, Rainer wrote, “Abramović is so wedded to her original vision that she—and by extension, the museum director and curators—doesn’t see the egregious associations for the performers, who, though willing, will be exploited nonetheless.”

In turn, Abramović has told Artinfo, “I hope the performance itself will bring some kind of dignity, serenity, and concentration to the normal situation of a gala,” adding, “I really respect Yvonne.”

The full text of the letter reads as follows:

To Jeffrey Deitch:

I am writing to protest the “entertainment” about to be provided by Marina Abramović at the upcoming donor gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It has come to my attention that a number of young people will be ensconced under the diners’ tables on lazy Susans and also be required to display their nude bodies under fake skeletons.

This description is reminiscent of Salo, Pasolini’s controversial film of 1975 that dealt with sadism and sexual abuse of a group of adolescents at the hands of a bunch of post-war fascists. Reluctant as I am to dignify Abramović by mentioning Pasolini in the same breath, the latter at least had a socially credible justification tied to the cause of antifascism. Abramović and MoCA have no such credibility, only a flimsy personal rationale about eye contact. 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 Abramović’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 Abramović’s work in general—but titillation for wealthy donor/diners as a means of raising money is another.

Abramović is so wedded to her original vision that she—and by extension, the Museum director and curators—doesn’t see the egregious associations for the performers, who, though willing, will be exploited nonetheless. Their desperate voluntarism says something about the generally exploitative conditions of the art world such that people are willing to become decorative table ornaments installed by a celebrity artist in the hopes of somehow breaking into the show biz themselves. And at subminimal wages for the performers, the event is economic exploitation as well, verging on criminality.

This grotesque spectacle promises to be truly embarrassing. We the undersigned wish to express our dismay that an institution that we have supported can stoop to such degrading methods of fund raising. Can other institutions be far behind? Must we rename LA MoCA “MODFR” or the Museum of Degenerate Fund Raising?

Sincerely,

Yvonne Rainer
Douglas Crimp
Taisha Paggett

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