Marina Abramovic is touted as one of the most notable perfomance artists. She is nearly 70, and has an extensive profile of work. I recall vividly two of her works. The first features her and a lover, with an arrow poised to shoot at her. It’s part of a greater exhibition, but I saw the short clip for its seductive quality. I believe the point was to show the power a lover can have over you, and that they can overtake you when they’re in control. The second was a more recent piece, which I stumbled upon through a Facebook page I follow. Marina performed at the Moma, a piece called “The Artist is Present”, which she performed from March-May 2010. She sat for hours each day( over 730 in total), silent, while spectators came and sat down in front of her. Many were driven to tears, others remained expressionless.. One of the more touching moments of the performance was when an old lover, Ulay appeared.
Ulay was her former lover and fellow artist. They traveled and worked together for years, a picture perfect art couple. In a dramatic performance titled The Lovers, the two walked across the Great wall to embrace for the final time before giong their separate ways, and never reconnected after that. That performance was the perfect way to end their whirlwind relationship. Years later, at the Moma i 2010, Ulay appeared, and the pair reunited. Marina was brought to tears almost instantly, they held hands, and he left. She had no idea of his arrival, and he remained for moments after to chat with other spectators and Marina. The two created several bodies of work together, though clearly Marina is more well known by the general public, and has been for decades. Recently, Ulay came back into light, but not to bring tears of joy to peoples eyes.He returned to sue Marina.
Ulay has revealed that Marina and he signed a contract in 1999 to ensure that works that they created together would be credited to the both of them, as it should be. So , although the pair split, they would both receive notoriety and credit for the joint work. However, Ulay claims that Marina has violated that contract, and that she has listed herself as the author or works that they created together . She has done this for years, and in the past 16 years, he has been paid only four times, with minimal credit given to the pair. He made the point, to the Guardian, that it’s clear that people saw them work together and for her to claim sole ownership is a slap in the face essentially. The relationship was romantic, but also business related, and it seems Marina cut both off. The terms of the contract are as follows :”All profits were to be divided as follows: 50% to the gallery, 30% to Abramović and 20% to Ulay.” This, however, did not happen. She maintained all rights to videos and galleries that they worked on, while he suffered financially and she rose to the top.
Marina has not spoken out about the topic, and this isn’t the first time she’s been questioned for her practices regarding performance art; she also ran into issues when she ‘hired’ volunteers to help her with work in the New York Foundation for the Arts. The tasks include computer work, administrative skills, and manual labor, to name a few. The list was incredibly extensive, and the tasks were time consuming. Though, she was questioned by many, as are many performance artists, on free labor versus paid work, she refused to comment on the matter and went about her business. She is a women with fame and money, yet she consciously chose not to pay these people and she never did. She is still lauded by many as original and thought provoking, but I think we have to question her to some degree. It’s very easy to praise artists and to focus on the work that they’ve put out, and not what it has taken for them to get to that place of success. To what extent can we separate the art from the artist? Marina is known by her work, but she isn’t exempt from the law. Ownership of ideas and of creations is a highly contested issue, especially when it comes to art. There will be a court session in several weeks, so we will get to hear her side of the story, but at this point it’s safe to say she may have fooled many. There is the question of why Ulay waited sixteen years to bring this up, so this isn’t a solid case with a clear decision as of yet. She is a performer in every sense of the word., and she seemed to fool plenty of others so perhaps this may be the end for her, or at least the beginning of her decline from the public image. I can appreciate the work that was created, but only if Ulay is given the same credit and attention that she so clearly craves, and that he so clearly deserves.