Seductive, fearless and outrageous, Marina Abramovi? has been redefining the meaning of art for nearly 40 years. Using her own body as a vehicle, pushing herself beyond her limits, and at times risking her physical safety, she creates performances that challenge, shock and move.
From first-time director Matthew Akers, MARINA ABRAMOVI? THE ARTIST IS PRESENT follows "the grandmother of performance art" as she prepares for a major retrospective of her work at Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 2010, highlighted by a new exhibit that is breathtaking in its simplicity: two chairs facing each other, with Abramovi? sitting in one and audience members taking turns sitting in the other, gazing into each other's eyes in silence. In true Abramovi? style, she remains in the chair for seven and a half hours each day - every day the museum is open for three months - without eating, drinking or moving, a feat of mental and physical endurance that is challenging even for a veteran of such performances.
MARINA ABRAMOVI? THE ARTIST IS PRESENT debuts MONDAY, JULY 2 (9:00-10:45 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO, as part of the HBO Documentary Films summer series. The film had its world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Other HBO playdates: July 5 (12:45 a.m.), 10 (12:30 a.m.) and 18 (2:45 a.m.)
HBO2 playdate: July 4 (8:00 p.m.)
Other July films in the summer series include: "Hard Times: Lost on Long Island" (debuting July 9); "Birders: The Central Park Effect" (July 16); "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom" (July 16); "Vito" (July 23); and "About Face: Supermodels Then and Now" (July 30).
Known for her extreme performance-art installations, many involving nudity and punishing bodily deprivation, Marina Abramovi? is one of the few artists of her generation still active in the field. A glamorous art-world icon, a lightning rod for controversy and a myth of her own making, she's tired of the "alternative" label after four decades of skepticism, and happy that the retrospective is the crowning achievement of her career, providing her the best opportunity to put performance art on the mainstream map. "Performance art has never been a regular form of art," she says. "It's always been alternative since I was born, so I want it to be a real form of art and respected before I die."
In addition to Abramovi? herself, the film features interviews and scenes with collaborators, art commentators, friends and fans, including: art critic Arthur Danto; Chrissie Iles, curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art; Abramovi?'s gallerist, Sean Kelly; writer Tom McEvilley; illusionist David Blaine; and actor James Franco.
MARINA ABRAMOVI? THE ARTIST IS PRESENT also includes extensive archival footage and images of her life in the year leading up to the MoMA extravaganza. Revisiting her controversial beginnings in the early 1970s, the film features documentation of her earlywork, including video of Abramovi? driving a van around a public square while shouting numbers from a megaphone, taking psychoactive drugs to challenge social attitudes towards female mental illness, and mutilating and flagellating herself.