Marina Abramovic on Preserving Performance

Marina Abramovic on Preserving Performance
Performance artist Marina Abramovic is about as close as there is to a one-person art movement. People who can name only one performance artist often identify this veteran but still beguilingly active Yugoslavian as the solitary survivor of an art form that they imagine came into existence in the 1960s and ran out of energy a decade later. It's a misperception she intends to change. Never short on ambition, Abramovic has just announced the establishment of the Marina Abramovic Foundation for Preservation of Performance Art, which will be based in upstate New York. Yesterday she spoke to ARTINFO about her plans.

Marina, the name of your new foundation makes performance art sound like an endangered activity. Surely, with the success of “Performa” and similar programs, that’s no longer the case?

I’ve been in New York for five years, and I’ve tried to see as much performance as I can, but here performance means many different things: it means dance, it means theater, it means stand-up comedy, it even means talk shows.

In Europe I focused on long-duration performance work, which doesn’t exist in this country. It did in the ’70s, but in the ’80s when the market took over and dealers were looking to sell things, performance was out, or it became associated with entertainment. Events became shorter and shorter.

I would like very much for the foundation to preserve a certain type of art that has almost been extinguished.

And how are you going to go about that?

I want to invite international curators to show really edgy, very difficult performance work. In museums and cultural institutions in America, everything is forbidden. You really can’t do anything with fire or water or other strange materials. And contemporary art has always dealt with new materials. The building I’ve bought is solid concrete. It’s indestructible, so we can have a really exciting program.

Why do you see it as your responsibility to undertake this?

I’m 61. You have to leave something behind you, as a legacy. I made my will when I turned 60, and I thought to myself, “OK, what are you going to do? You’ve got this retrospective coming up at MoMA in 2010, and work with other museums, but are you going to repeat yourself, or are going to give your experience to younger artists so that they can benefit from it?” I think one of the very important roles of artists is as transmitters of knowledge.

Apparently this is all going to happen in a former theater building in Hudson in upstate New York. Why there?

The position is very exciting. It’s between the Dia Foundation and Mass MOCA, and it’s about 20 minutes from Bard College. At first I was looking in Bushwick in Brooklyn. I saw one or two incredible factories, but there were problems with pollution, which is typical of postindustrial spaces in the city. I started thinking, “Why does it have to be close to New York City?” Robert Wilson’s Watermill Foundation is almost three hours from New York, and people are happy to go there. I saw this building in Hudson, and it was a third of the price of buildings in Brooklyn.

And where is the money coming from? Are you spending your own money on this project?

Yes, I bought the building myself, for $950,000. The reason I could afford to do it was I sold the house that I’d had in Amsterdam for about 30 years.

When will the foundation begin its work?

I bought the building on my birthday three weeks ago. It’s going to cost $135,000 to clear it out, which I don’t have at the moment. It will take us the winter and spring to get the place cleared out and to do some small-scale repairs. In the summer we don’t need heating so I’m planning a benefit event when all of my good artist friends who are fetching good market prices can donate some art so that we can afford some infrastructural work. And I want to invite a few artists to actually perform, so that people will be able to see immediately the sort of work I want to develop. They’ll be mostly Europeans, because I haven’t found anyone in America yet.