Here’s the deal: For two and a half months, you show up for work. You don a long, single-color robe in either red or blue–or, more recently, white. You take a seat in the lobby of the most famous modern art museum in the world. A stranger sits in the seat directly facing you.
And you sit.
No words, no movement, just sitting and staring into the eyes of this stranger for as long as she or he wishes. Eight hours or more a day, seven days a week, over the course of several months.
This is the task that legendary performance artist Marina Abramovic has given herself in “The Artist is Present.” She’s set up shop in the lobby of MOMA since March 14 and will continue until the end of May. Not only is she visible and on display under the harsh lights of the white lobby, she is being watched live by netizens around the world via streaming video. It’s a Herculean task of self-control, public scrutiny, and, strangely, a feeling by viewers of a spectacle we are not supposed to be privy.
MOMA has also posted a photostream of both artist and visitors, and the images are fascinating. I’ve included a couple of the photos above: “Day 45, Portrait 14,” and “Day 45, Portrait 13,” respectively. These participants, whose length of visit with Abramovic is chronicled in the caption (throughout the exhibition, visitors have sat with the artist, silently, anywhere from one minute to hours on end).
“Day 45, Portrait 12,” of a dark-haired man focused intently at the artist, seemingly lost to the people both in the lobby and watching him live over the Internet: Why is he crying? How have this man’s 67 minutes, seated across from the artist–silent and impassive as a statue–moved him to tears?
Casey Schwartz blogs about her fascination with the Flickr stream in today’s Daily Beast, and her insights are acute: “Abramovic’s photos tap into the basic fascination we have with other human beings—the desire to stare, compare, assess, decode, and assume.”
We can tell nothing about the identities of these strangers, yet we’re compelled nonetheless to imagine our own narratives.