Abramovic shows plans for institute at old Hudson theater
QUEENS–Hudson Supervisors Sarah Sterling and Ellen Thurston and Columbia county media joined a New York City art and media crowd this week to learn more about performance artist Marina Abramovic’s plans for the former movie theater and indoor tennis court building she purchased in 2008. Ms. Abramovic said her institute for performance art could open as early as 2014 after a $15-million renovation by the internationally known architectural firm OMA.
The occasion was a press conference held Monday, May 7 at MOMA PS1, the alternative art space in a historic school building near the 59th Street Bridge that connects Queens to Manhattan.
Despite the metropolitan location of the press event, the subject of the gathering was the prospect that future visitors to Hudson will be able to participate either as artists or members of the audience in performances by Ms. Abramovic and others. Performances will last six or more hours, with visitors and artists donning lab coats and ear phones after signing a contract in which they agree to remain at the institute for the duration of the performance. Ms. Abramovic believes that only performance art that lasts six hours or longer qualifies as serious art. Viewers and performance art students alike will receive instruction in how to properly participate in this collaborative art form.
Among the plans announced this week are specially designed reclining chairs that can be wheeled away if observers fall asleep, and returned to the main arena once they awake. Performers will occupy beds and chairs implanted with minerals and magnets for what are described as health benefits. Some of the performers will remain motionless for hours, a task that requires stamina and devotion.
Ms. Abramovic made local headlines several months ago when she announced plans to use the large brick building at the corner of Columbia and North Seventh Street as an institute to train performance artists. The idea calls for the facade of the building, which has a series of pillars, to be enclosed in glass to create a smaller performance space. The arched doorways will be glass to allow light into the interior. The main performance space, a little larger than the tennis court it replaces, will be viewable from practically every other space in the building.
In planning the new institute, the artist and her architectural collaborators, Shohei Shigematsu and Rem Koolhaas, generated a new concept about how to experience art of long duration. They considered baseball stadiums, offices, wheelchairs, gurneys, office behavior and other sources of inspiration before arriving at their current designs. The approach is intended to provide comfort and to take into consideration that viewers’ attention may wander and that they may want to physically wander during a performance.
The models and renderings of the floor plan show viewing platforms high above the main floor, where visitors can read or exercise as they experience a performance. Or they can watch from a distance with binoculars. During breaks, they can relax and purchase refreshments at a roof-top cafe with a view of the Catskills. Some may exercise in the gym, where they can monitor the performance.
Most of these amenities were not available at the artist’s recent show “The Artist is Present,” a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 2010. Viewers stood or sat on cement floors for as long as they were able. Some waited for hours to take part in Ms. Abromavic’s live performance, in which she sat across from one other person, gazing at that person continuously for seven hours each day.
The Abramovic method of performance art is meant to blur the line between artist and audience, drawing them together in a mutually demanding task of staying the course, of being in the moment and maintaining concentration as they complete prescribed tasks.
Serge Le Borgne, Ms. Abramovic’s Paris art dealer closed his gallery to come to Hudson to become the institute’s director. He said at Monday’s event that he had felt a growing discomfort with art that is bought and sold like a commodity and is about the owner’s social status. He likened Abromavic’s work to the Internet or social media, because of its conceptual nature, and its lack of materiality.
Ms. Abramovic said Monday that before coming to Hudson she had first sought space in Brooklyn but could find nothing appropriate. She owns a home in Malden Bridge.
Before remodeling the building can start, the artist must raise $15 million. She said she is considering interrupting her performance schedule to expedite fundraising for the project.