Yvonne Rainer Blasts Marina Abramović and MOCA LA

[update: final letter, with quite a list of signers, here. And to clarify: I received the below letters through email, with explicit instructions to spread far and wide.]

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Rainer received the following letter from someone who attended the Abramović auditionfor a work to be performed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles’ gala:

So, I spent an hour today at the Abromovic [sic] audition at MOCA. The deal is that the artists/dancers she will hire will spend 3(!) hours under the dining tables of the donor gala with their heads protruding from the tables. They will be sitting on lazy susans under the table and slowly rotating and making eye contact with the donors/diners. 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. What the fuck?! And the chosen performers are expected to be there all day friday and saturday. The hours probably total 15 or more and the pay is $150 (plus a MOCA one year membership!!!). I am utterly appalled. This should be illegal. There is another audition for another role where the performers lie naked on tables with fake skeletons on them. Since I cannot stomach being a turning, severed head while people get drunk in front of me, I am seriously considering taking a naked role and performing an intervention at the gala celebration where I use my body as a surface to communicate the fact that I worked x number of hours for $150. I swear I need to do something…to speak for my community of artists who are being taken advantage of by major museums. sick shit.  God, we need a revolution.

This is Rainer’s response, written to the museum’s director [update: Abramović responds and Deitch responds:

November 9, 2011

To Jeffrey Deitch:

I am writing to protest the “entertainment” about to be provided by Marina Abramovic 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.  

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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 Abramovic by mentioning Pasolini in the same breath, the latter at least had a socially credible justification tied to the cause of anti-fascism. Abramovic 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 Abramovic’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 Abramovic’s work in general — but titillation for wealthy donor/diners as a means of raising money is another.

Ms Abramovic 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 sub-minimal 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 re-name MOCA “MODFR” or the Museum of Degenerate Fund Raising?

Sincerely,

Yvonne Rainer

Douglas Crimp

taisha paggett

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