We live in a world where critiques of art are more acceptable if they are academic and not too critical of content. A layperson critical of art is likely to be dismissed as ignorant, conservative or a censor. We are trained to be accepting and tolerant of others, especially toward art and performance art. For the most part, this is a good thing. Although aware of this I still want to comment on a recent benefit at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
This museum or M.O.C.A. recently held a gala with 750 guests who paid upwards of $2,500 for dinner, art and entertainment. They raised 2.5 million dollars for M.O.C.A. Attendees included Museum of Contemporary Art trustees Maria Bell and Eli Broad; celebrities Gwen Stefani, Kirsten Dunst, John Baldessari, Will Ferrell, Dasha Zhukova, Ed Ruscha, Eva Chow, Ryan Trecartin, Rosanna Arquette, Tilda Swinton and Pamela Anderson; and Gov. Jerry Brown and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to name a few.
Attendees watched two 65-year-old women, Debbie Harry and Marina Abramovic use giant butcher knives to dismember youthful nude, red-velvet cake replicas of themselves, I thought their act was neither edgy nor artistic. The two seemed more like teenagers trying to be â€œbad girls,â€ making the finale come off as more clueless and silly, than artistically relevant.
Before the show Yvonne Rainer pointed out that Maria Abramovic’s models were not being given decent wages, and were working for the wealthy 1%. After the show Rainer seemed to take back what she said. Abramovic most likely invited the early controversy as it created a sort of pre-game buzz for the media. Marina was being challenged to top Lady Gaga and others from years past.
Abramovic hired males, I assume in a nod toward Abercrombie and Fitch greeters, who bared their chests as they carried red velvet cakes on stretchers to the stage. Disembodied male and female heads were live and rotating as centerpieces for the dining tables.
Everyone was asked to wear white lab coats and nude women with plastic skeletons were also table centerpieces. It’s important to note that no males were asked to lay still, fully naked with skeletons on top of them.
I wonder if Abramovic assumed donors would not want to view hairy scrotum while eating? Did she think a discreet peek at the nude crotches of the women was more likely to please her male donors? Women attending were to â€œgo alongâ€ with and assimilate as they are often challenged to do. Voicing concern might cost them their desirable position.
Not everyone was complacent. I did hear some voices shouting out about how Abramovic’s “Manifesto” was simply violence to women on one of the videos made of the event.
Now, I would like to share the performance art piece I would have done if given the same opportunity that these two women had. So, there I am facing a huge dessert hungry crowd. I am given a knife and a young nude cake replica of myself. My first step would be to remove my lab coat and cover her nude body. I am not against nudity, but we rarely admit how stripping the clothing from people is a universal way to humiliate them, and if they are imprisoned it’s a form of torture. I would then put the knife down and under the cover of the lab coat I would eliminate any female or human likeness before it was cut and served. In short, I would not partake in the public eating of female body parts, as that schtick has already been performed a million times. A nod to the germ-phobic folks, I would be willing to wear silicone gloves before demolishing the icing so everyone could fully enjoy this tasty red-velvet cake.
Havenâ€™t we seen enough womenâ€™s blood shed? If you want to shock people you could make a cake replica of a dead female Syrian or Palestinian protestor. Eat that, you wealthy donors. Or if you want blood, why not replicate the stoned corpse of Soroya from the film, The Stoning of Soroya. Clearly, my personal art appreciation leans away from self-indulgent pieces toward ones that might further humanity toward self-revelation and social justice. The political statement lives in every piece of art. It is inescapable, even in a decorative landscape or still life. Like it or not.
In Yoko Onoâ€™s early performance piece viewers had a choice to do good or harm to her as she sat in the gallery, with scissors nearby, for hours on end. One could try to dismantle the scissors or one could cut her hair, her clothing or her body. We all hold the potential for good and evil. The question remains what action will you choose to take?
Ann J. Simonton