Contemporary art Fairs USA

The Abramovic stare in moving pictures

A preview of a feature length documentary that explores four decades of the artist's performances is being shown tonight

A still from “Marina Abramovic: the Artist Is Present”

miami. Marina Abramovic gets another 15 minutes of fame at Art Basel Miami Beach—in a clip of that length taken from a feature length documentary that explores four decades of performances, the bruising end of her marriage to a fellow artist, and her 2010 retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

An excerpt of “Marina Abramovic: the Artist Is Present” is due to be shown in a loop tonight at Miami Beach’s Soho Beach House. It has been selected to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, with a New York debut at MoMA on 31 May, followed by an airing on HBO.

The documentary follows the contours of the “making of” films found in the DVD releases of movies. Most budgets for major building projects include such a film, while the artist Christo has documented all his projects in films shot by the director Albert Maysles. “Marina Abramovic: the Artist Is Present”, directed by Matthew Akers and produced by Jeff Dupre, has greater ambitions.

The luminous cinematography and time taken (the crew followed the artist for a year) reflect a sizeable budget—more than $1m—which came from HBO, the government of Montenegro, and the Atlas Foundation. Abramovic, filmed while preparing her MoMA retrospective, voiced her own ambitions: “Performance has never been a regular form of art—it’s been ‘alternative’ since I was born. I want it to be a real form of art before I die.”

Alternative may now seem an odd term for an artist who trains her team at a Hudson Valley manor, arrived at MoMA in a limousine and dresses for her marathon gallery sittings in couture evening gowns. But the documentary revisits Abramovic’s early years in Yugoslavia (her parents were partisan fighters during the second world war), when young Marina paraded nude for art student peers with a five-pointed star (the symbol of the Communist Party) carved into her belly. Footage also shows her performing violent slap-fests with her former partner Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen).

Despite its elegant look, the film remains a reverent infomercial for the artist. Abramovic hype forced MoMA to turn away huge crowds and bolster security to shield the artist from tearful fans. Competition this season could come from “Pina!”, Wim Wenders’s 3D elegy for the German choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009 and shared Abramovic’s sado-masochistic tastes. Yet Abramovic is alive and in Miami this week, poised to promote the documentary.

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