Monday, November 14, 2011

Thank god For Yvonne Rainer

Has the art world always been like it is today? So hierarchical, so entrenched, so authoritative and so elite? I’m not sure, I’ve only experienced this go of it, but even so, there definitely have been noticeable shifts in the last few years. Things have flattened out in the art world. It seems that it was at least more interesting, when there was the rich, elite, high snob art world and the very poor, actually hungry but groundbreaking art world. Now everyone seems to be in a chlorine wave pool, no one can drown. Everyone wants to be a star, but not in a Warhol fifteen minutes way, that little motto is just too sentimental these days. There is a lack of the exceptional in culture as a whole and because of this, celebrity seems, and possibly is, more attainable. I blame the curators. I blame them for now being the cultural arbiters who need celebrity to stay on top. Sadly, the critic has been beaten to a pulp by a gang of scarf wearing, euro-centric, mostly guys, leaving them with little to no influence. Those critics that still posses power are curiously poor writers but have a lot of social know how. So now the curator is the cultural-agent to the stars, bridging the high with the rich and playing translator and matchmaker. It only takes a few well groomed curators to make this the new norm because to be honest things are just too boring and safe otherwise. Of course we all pay attention and glom onto it because everyone wants to go to be invited to the party.

So now we have actors who are make-believing as artists, pop singers who are somehow leaking in to the canon of performance art and the artists, gallerists, collectors, everyone, is shoveling it all in and back out again. It’s just too wacky tacky but true.

Just when it seems like there is no hope that anyone in any station of authority or capacity was going to make any dissention heard, in comes Yvonne Rainer. Her letter, as well Douglas Crimp’s and Taisha Paggett’s, is in response to LA MOCA’s gala performance organized by Marina Abramović. I cannot even begin to express my thankfulness to this clear, smart, and necessary response. Below is the letter in full she wrote to Jeffrey Deitch, Director of the museum. Also, you can read the original message that was sent to Rainer by someone who tried out for this at In addition I have included Rainer’s “No Manifesto” from 1965. Really, about time things were aired out in this bizarre art orgy.

The full text of the original letter reads as follows:

To Jeffrey Deitch:

I am writing to protest the “entertainment” about to be provided by Marina Abramović at the upcoming donor gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It has come to my attention that a number of young people will be ensconced under the diners’ tables on lazy Susans and also be required to display their nude bodies under fake skeletons.

This description is reminiscent of Salo, Pasolini’s controversial film of 1975 that dealt with sadism and sexual abuse of a group of adolescents at the hands of a bunch of post-war fascists. Reluctant as I am to dignify Abramović by mentioning Pasolini in the same breath, the latter at least had a socially credible justification tied to the cause of antifascism. Abramović and MoCA have no such credibility, only a flimsy personal rationale about eye contact. Subjecting her performers to public humiliation at the hands of a bunch of frolicking donors is yet another example of the Museum’s callousness and greed and Ms Abramović’s obliviousness to differences in context and some of the implications of transposing her own powerful performances to the bodies of others. An exhibition is one thing—this is not a critique of Abramović’s work in general—but titillation for wealthy donor/diners as a means of raising money is another.

Abramović is so wedded to her original vision that she—and by extension, the Museum director and curators—doesn’t see the egregious associations for the performers, who, though willing, will be exploited nonetheless. Their desperate voluntarism says something about the generally exploitative conditions of the art world such that people are willing to become decorative table ornaments installed by a celebrity artist in the hopes of somehow breaking into the show biz themselves. And at subminimal wages for the performers, the event is economic exploitation as well, verging on criminality.

This grotesque spectacle promises to be truly embarrassing. We the undersigned wish to express our dismay that an institution that we have supported can stoop to such degrading methods of fund raising. Can other institutions be far behind? Must we rename LA MoCA “MODFR” or the Museum of Degenerate Fund Raising?


Yvonne Rainer
Douglas Crimp
Taisha Paggett

*this letter was later updated, saying basically the same thing but after Rainer was able to see a rehearsal for it. Many more people also signed.

Yvonne Rainer’s 1965 “No Manifesto”

NO to spectacle.

No to virtuosity.

No to transformations and magic and make-believe.

No to the glamour and transcendency of the star image.

No to the heroic.

No to the anti-heroic.

No to trash imagery.

No to involvement of performer or spectator,

No to style.

No to camp.

No to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer.

No to eccentricity.

No to moving or being moved.