THE ARTIST IS PRESENT (Matthew Akers). 105 minutes. Opens the Canadian Art Reel Artists Film Festival, Wednesday (February 22), 8 pm, with artist and director present, and February 26, 5:30 pm. At the TIFF Bell Lightbox. See Indie & Rep Film. Rating: NNN
This profile of performance artist Marina Abramovic, the Serbian Sarah Bernhardt of the art world, takes its title from a performance at her 2010 Museum of Modern Art retrospective.
For the entire three-month duration of that show, which documented her work since the 70s - often involving nudity, fasting and self-mutilation - via video and re-enactments by a troupe of young artists, Abramovic sat in the museum's atrium silently staring into the faces of audience members who queued up to take the chair opposite her.
Interviews and a reunion with former artistic and romantic partner Ulay provide background, while scenes of Abramovic at photo shoots, her New York loft, her Hudson Valley estate and haute couture shopping in Paris give some idea of the magnitude of her success.
Most of the film focuses on the MoMA performance: visitors from Ulay to kids and seniors gaze back at Abramovic as the camera records their puzzled, bemused or tearful faces. People start camping outside the museum for a chance to participate. Whether she'll make it through the arduous days of sitting and focusing adds suspense. At almost two hours, though, the film itself is a bit of an endurance test.
Whether you consider Abramovic's oeuvre a moving art/theatre hybrid enacted with the body, a modern-day shamanic bridge to sacred space or a bunch of self-dramatizing S/M stunts re-contextualized as art (I'm leaning toward the latter), you have to admire the inclusive spirit of this performance.