Critics’ Picks

Balkan Erotic Epic (detail), 2005.

New York

Marina Abramovic

Sean Kelly Gallery
475 10th avenue
December 9–January 21

Following quickly on the heels of her ambitious “Seven Easy Pieces” at the Guggenheim, Marina Abramovic’s latest show offers up an original and focused archaeology of the erotic rituals rooted in the heritage of her native region. “Balkan Erotic Epic,” a collection of videos in which amateur actors reenact some of these folk customs, finds the artist mixing the hallucinatory joie de vivre of the sex scene from Zabriskie Point with the spirit of the Society for Creative Anachronism. The works on display synthesize three recent themes in Abramovic's oeuvre: pedagogy, the archiving of performance, and the history of the Balkan territories. One video shows the artist in high pedantic form, calmly schooling the viewer on the rituals' meanings. (“To make the crops grow, the man will masturbate into the earth.”) In another, a bare-chested Abramovic, hair covering her face like a shapely Cousin It, repeatedly slaps a human skull against her sternum. The gesture is raw, futile, and, well, erotic—forcing an uncomfortable reflection on the incontrovertible relationship between birth and death. In the final room, additional practices are visualized in three lush videos of men and women in various states of undress and abandon, offering a fecund meditation on the history of performance, cultural reproduction, and the flexibility of the meanings assigned to our most “private” parts.