[Originally from Art is Fear for 7 January 2013]
Speaking of Marina Abramović…
I met her one magical spring night a couple years ago when she spoke at the Hirshhorn. Before the talk, the ‘horn hosted a cocktail party at The Source for a bunch of donors and bigwigs interspersed with some lowly people like me maybe to make it seem more democratic and artsy. I was thrilled! I invited my fellow Marina lover Kelly to accompany me and we set our expectations for meeting Marina at an appropriately low level.
There were lots of people at the event and we could see Marina being handled here and there, being introduced to all the right people. Kelly and I hung off to the side, looking sideways and longingly at Marina, trying to catch glimpses of her when we could, like shy schoolgirls with crushes.
Suddenly, Kelly grabbed my arm and whispered a little too intensely into my ear, “Here’s our chance.”
Marina was sitting at the bar alone drinking tea. I didn’t want to bother her when she was obviously taking a break from the hub-bub, but my starry-eyed Marina worship got the best of me and we approached her with great trepidation. She was gracious! She asked us questions about ourselves and looked us each straight in the eye. In the movie “The Artist Is Present,” her gallerist describes her as someone who makes everyone she meets fall in love with her. I was falling for her!
Unsurprisingly, one of the museum’s curators soon came over to take her away from us. Instead, of bidding us goodbye, Marina took each of our hands and said, “I’m not finished talking to these girls yet. Come with me.” We swooned.
The curator led Marina to a round table in the corner, the kind where you have to slide in to get to the other side. Marina slid in first and then pulled Kelly and me in after her. Various people took turns on the other side of the table, while we sat awkwardly as Marina tried to engage us in conversation while also fulfilling her duties as the evening’s star guest. The surly curator who tried to take Marina away from us earlier started giving us the stink eye, so we reluctantly gave up our spots. It was already the best art night of my life.
Kelly and I finally made it over to the ‘horn for Marina’s talk, the auditorium was packed except for two seats directly in front of the podium where Marina would speak. Astonished, we took the seats.
During her talk, Marina read aloud An Artist’s Life Manifesto. It was printed on many sheets of paper in large type. Each time she finished reading from a page, she dropped it to the stage so that by the end, the stage was papered in white. As soon as Marina uttered her last words of thanks to the audience, I jumped up and snatched the first two sheets of paper I could get my hands on, one for me and one for Kelly. Turns out that I grabbed page 8, which happened to contain the lines that I had felt most connected to while she was speaking:
- An artist should stay for long periods of time at waterfalls
- An artist should stay for long periods of time at exploding volcanoes
- An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the fast running rivers
- An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the horizon where the ocean and sky meet
- An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the stars in the night sky
If you know anything about me, you know why these words alone would have made this night the most magical of my life.
Giddy and even a little exhausted by all the excitement of the evening, Kelly and I headed out to the sidewalk to wave down a cab. While we were standing on the sidewalk trying to decide where to go for dinner, the director of the Hirshhorn came out with a small group of people and asked us what we were doing. He shook his head at our inadequate response and shoved us into a chauffeured car with a couple who turned out to be the Spanish Ambassador to the OAS and his wife. Marina’s car arrived right behind us at the beautiful home of a DC art collector. We all stepped up to the door at the same moment. When she saw us, Marina exclaimed, “It’s my girls.” My knees nearly buckled! She remembered us!
We didn’t get to spend much time with Marina at the dinner party. But after everything that had already happened that night, it didn’t matter. It was our magical night with Marina.