Marina Abramović's Major Retrospective Charts 50 Years of Pushing Boundaries

Marina Abramović, the self-described “grandmother of performance art” and a pop culture celebrity, is extending her legacy. More than 100 of the Serbian artist’s works, lesser-known early paintings and drawings as well as more famous performance pieces, are now on view at the 15th-century Palazzo Strozzi in Florence as part of Marina Abramović: The Cleaner. The new exhibition – Italy's first on Abramović and Palazzo Strozzi's first devoted to a female artist, takes its name from a specific creative moment in the artist's own life. "Like in a house, you only keep what you need and you clean away your past, your memory, your destiny", she says.

Ulay and Marina Abramović, Imponderabilia, 1977. Courtesy of Marina Abramović Archives and Lima, Mac/2017/038. Marina Abramović by Siae 2018.

The exhibition spans the entire venue, including the piano nobile, famed courtyard and below-ground "Strozzina." “We tried to create very suggestive exhibition spaces", says curator Arturo Galansino. "It’s the first time she will be putting her works in a Renaissance environment." To those with a background in art history, says Galansino, it’s easy enough to find classical echoes in Abramović’s works. For Imponderabilia, 1977, she and her then artistic and romantic partner Ulay stood naked on either side of a gallery doorway, forcing audiences to pass between their bodies, recalling, Galasino says “the caryatids in Greek temples and neo-classical architecture”. Such references, however, are likely unconscious. “Abramović has never really quoted classical art in her work in an explicit way,” he adds.

Marina Abramović and Ulay, Anima Mundi. (Pietà) 1983–2002. © Marina Abramović and Ulay. Courtesy of Marina Abramović Archives and Galleria Lia Rumma Milano/napoli.

The one notable exception is Anima Mundi, 1983, a tableau vivant in which Ulay, in white, lies across the lap of Abramović, in red. Galansino has placed it off site at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, near Michelangelo’s Pietà, which features a similar composition.

Marina Abramović, The House With The Ocean View, 2002–2017. Courtesy of Marina Abramović Archives and Sean Kelly, New York, Mac/2017/072. Credit: Ph. Attilio Maranzano.

A group of artists, specially selected and trained for the show, will re-perform some of Abramović's most famous performance pieces. Visitors can experience Imponderabilia, 1977, everyday, but other pieces, like The House with the Ocean View, which Abramović performed in 2002 at Sean Kelly gallery, living and fasting for 12 days in three elevated rooms, can only be seen once. Natural changes occur to the works when they are recreated by new artists, but these are a way for Abramović to keep the piece alive, other than through documentation. The Freeing Series of three re-performances alternates on a weekly basis between Freeing the Voice, where a performer lying backwards on a mattress screams, Freeing the Memory, where a performer seated on a chair repeats words and phrases until they cannot think of any more, and Freeing the Body, where a performer dances and moves until they drop in exhaustion.

Marina Abramović, The Kitchen V. Holding the Milk, 2009. Courtesy of Marina Abramović Archives and Lima. Special thanks to Galleria Lia Rumma Milano/napoli.

Marina Abramović: The Cleaner is on view at the Palazzo Strozzi from 21 September 2018 to 20 January 2019

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