Do you get this?

Am I simple and unsophisticated, or is this authentically daft?

From the "arts" section of Hell’s Bible

700-Hour Silent Opera Reaches Finale at MoMA

At 5 p.m. Monday the longest piece of performance art on record, and certainly the one with the largest audience, comes to an end. Since her retrospective opened at the Museum of Modern Art on March 14, the artist Marina Abramovic has been sitting, six days a week, seven hours a day in a plain chair, under bright klieg lights, in MoMA’s towering atrium. When she leaves that chair Monday for the last time, she will have clocked 700 hours of sitting.

During that time her routine seldom varied. Every day she took her place just before the museum doors opened and left it after they closed. Her wardrobe was consistent: a sort of concert gown with a long train, in one of three colors (red, blue and white).

Always her hair, in a braided plait, was pulled forward over her left shoulder. Always her skin was an odd pasty white, as if the blood had drained away. Her pose rarely changed: her body slightly bent forward, she stared silently and intently straight ahead.

There was one variable, a big one: her audience.

Visitors to the museum were invited, first come first served, to sit in a chair facing her and silently return her gaze. The chair has rarely, if ever, been empty. Close to 1,400 people have occupied it, some for only a minute or two, a few for an entire day.

Sitting with Ms. Abramovic has been the hot event of the spring art season. Celebrities — Bjork, Marisa Tomei, Isabella Rossellini, Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright — did a stint. Young performance artists seized a moment in the limelight. One appeared in his own version of an Abramovic gown to propose marriage. Certain repeat sitters became mini-celebrities, though long-time waiters on line stared daggers at those who sat too long.

Thanks to the Internet many people saw all of this without being there. A daily live feed on MoMA’s Web site,, has had close to 800,000 hits. A Flickr site with head shots of every sitter has been accessed close to 600,000 times. Yet foot traffic has been heavy. By the museum’s estimate, half a million people have visited all or part of the Abramovic retrospective, “The Artist Is Present,” of which the atrium piece is a small part.




About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. John Weidner says:

    The artist always reflects the inner soul of his or her time. This is it. Nihilism. Nothingness.

    Our enemy is the hardest one to struggle against, because we are fighting………. nothing.

  2. marcpuckett says:

    Don’t know if the prima donna is totally daft, no, but she seems to be happy being the subject of everybody else’s attention solely because of one clever question she asked herself months ago; I find it difficult to find much of the transcendental here: that Holland Cotter can’t find more praise than to write ‘it works’ is a telling sign.

  3. Imagine.. thousands have come to stare at her in silence and yet at my Church we can hardly get 1 person an hour to come and sit with Jesus… strange world we are living in.

  4. Rachel Pineda says:

    Noooo I for one don’t “get it” but wow, the human face is amazing! I browsed through some of the photos they have on the website and it just shows the faces of people who sat in front of the “exhibit” and although I don’t “get it” the expressions on a lot of people’s faces are very interesting.God’s creation is absolutely amazing.I suspect quite a few people encountered something they didn’t want to find/see and a lot of people think they “found” something as well.
    What is so strange about this is it just misses the whole point, I think. I hope some people got it. People don’t realize they are encountering the best art of all, a human! This is not modern art, it has been created since Adam and Eve and God himself is the artist. This kind of thing gets a reaction out of people because you rarely can intimately stare into another persons eyes in silence, which speaks volumes, and not come away touched in some way. It’s the way God made us. Let’s hope it stirred all of these souls to the reality to the magnificence of our Creator.
    You’ve got to love the expressions on the children’s faces, so assured and honest and unafraid, while some of the adults look terrified…hmmm.

  5. Geoffrey says:

    Paintings, sculptures, etc… THAT’S art!

  6. Melania says:

    In a word, “yes.” Yes, this is daft.

  7. Please tell me this is a joke??

  8. Mariana says:

    There’s nothing TO get. Nothing, nil, rien, nichts, niente, ingenting!

  9. Mariana says:

    Because it is authentically daft. Daftest are the ones who allowed this performance on their premises, thinking it was SOMETHING.

  10. alipius says:

    This looks like a typical symptom of a “brighter than thou” art-posse that spends most of its time circling around itself without actually contributing in a meaningful way. You want to see some authentic, amazing faces? Leave your museum and meet some people who don’t try to be “hip” or “now” or “happening” or “5th Avenue”.

  11. Glen M says:

    Sign of The Times.

  12. chcrix says:

    Do I get it? Yes.

    Not terribly original. The kind of empty head activity that passes for ‘art’.

    See:'33” (Hope the link comes through – the interperter doesn’t seem to like the minutes and seconds markings.)

    My favorite quote on this topic strikes the standard advocate of contemporary art dumb:

    “From the moment that art ceases to be food that feeds the best minds, the artist can use his talents to perform all the tricks of the intellectual charlatan. Most people can today no longer expect to receive consolation and exaltation from art. The ‘refined,’ the rich, the professional ‘do-nothings’, the distillers of quintessence desire only the peculiar, the sensational, the eccentric, the scandalous in today’s art. I myself, since the advent of Cubism, have fed these fellows what they wanted and satisfied these critics with all the ridiculous ideas that have passed through my mind. The less they understood them, the more they admired me. Through amusing myself with all these absurd farces, I became celebrated, and very rapidly. For a painter, celebrity means sales and consequent affluence. Today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone, I do not have the effrontery to consider myself an artist at all, not in the grand old meaning of the word: Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, Goya were great painters. I am only a public clown – a mountebank. I have understood my time and have exploited the imbecility, the vanity, the greed of my contemporaries. It is a bitter confession, this confession of mine, more painful than it may seem. But at least and at last it does have the merit of being honest.” (Pablo Picasso, 1952)

    There is a lot of food for thought in that quote – and some definite relevance to the issues that concern this blog. Particularly the ‘consolation and exaltation’ meme.

  13. Kerry says:

    Artist statement: “Pretend that I sat here silently for 700 hours. Make believe that you stared at me and I pretended to stare back.”

  14. Penguins Fan says:

    This is art only in the universe of the New York Times.

    It looks to me that this lady has nothing better to do with her life than make a spectacle of herself. Pop culture, which is actually, slop culture, will usually provide the fool with a public platform to expose the foolishness to as many as possible.

    We all need to get over what the New York Slimes publishes. It is a dying rag. It has a history of horrid “reporting”. Any newspaper that published the rantings of Walter Duranty, Herbert Mathews and Jayson Blair is worse than raw sewage. People that are “influenced” by such a rag are on the road to ruin.

  15. Jack Hughes says:

    Ok being a daft unsphisticated Bourgeoisie I don’t get the point of this piece, give me Gregorian Chant anyday

  16. introibo says:

    Well, this is better than another “exhibit” what was supposed to be going on there recently – I forget the particular exhibit, but at the entrance to it, there were supposed to be two naked people standing there. I’m not talking statues here…I mean real people. My 19-year old daughter wanted to go to see some other stuff there, but when she saw that these nuts would be there, she said she’d wait until that exhibit was done….

  17. wanda says:

    saint.michael…My same thoughts exactly. When I began to read the story about poor souls lining up, waiting who knows how long, to sit and stare absurdly at another who is absurdly staring back at you?? I think of First Friday devotions when only a handful of people come to spend one hour with Jesus.

    Yes, Fr. Z. it is daft.

  18. ckdexterhaven says:

    I find it funny b/c New Yorkers “the elite”, always look down on rubes like me. Yeah, I have driven a pickup truck or two, yeah I listen to country music, own a gun and go to church on Sunday. But the elites are the ones who pay good money and spend precious time staring at a lady in a white gown. I guess I’m too dumb to “get it.” Well, gotta go take a dip in the cee-ment pond….

  19. It reminds me of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s comment about the devil, whereby he mentioned how God is all about existence (He Who is) while the devil works on the principle of non-existence “he who is not.”

  20. Reminds me of “This Way to the Egress”. Barnum would love the “artist’s” chutzpah — except that he probably figures today’s modern art audiences are too easy a mark.

  21. It’s the Church’s fault. When the Church abandoned art for the international style, and then abandoned artistic liturgy, art lost its purpose. “Art” is now completely pointless.

  22. Sliwka says:

    Whilst I can understand the draw for some people, I see almost no value in this type of performance art (like most people here), but I may be one of the only ones here who will not completely right off modern art. I studied film for a bit before switching to theology as a minor, so by no means am I an expert, but have seen some interesting films and not-quite so interesting.

    Exhibit A: I think it was called Dead Meat, or something like that, and it was a film of a performance art that had men and women in swimsuits rub meat on each other. Pretty Dumb

    Exhibit B: Stan Brakhage’s Dante’s Quartet. Hand painted single frames (I think 8mm); looks like a Jackson Pollack painting put in motion, in my opinion.

    Maybe I am the odd duck out here.

  23. GordonB says:

    Hmm, I’ve always viewed performance art as having a comedic element which sort of has a “candid camera” aspect to it… some of the comments are a bit harsh in my opinion, here’s some other performance art, which I can’t help but think that anybody that remembers 1985 would enjoy:

  24. coletmary says:

    It seems so desperate. Like a puppet show of what they really crave: The Mass. ‘Art’ is their religion, The Times is their bible, the MoMA their church, the folding chairs their pews, this ‘artist’ their Christ, their god(s)….themselves. How disappointed and empty they must feel when they leave and go out for bagels and lox and espressomochachinao lattes (as opposed to the pedestrian pancake breakfast).

  25. Joseph says:

    We live in a time a complete inversion of almost everything. What was considered beautiful is now ugly, what was moral is now imoral, what was fruitful is now sterile. Without my Catholic faith I would end my life. It would be the logical conclusion, since meaning of it dissolves into a big zero.

  26. Jason C. says:

    I was watching Abramovic’s performance a few weeks ago online. I think it’s an amazingly powerful idea, though I don’t it works to watch it online…except to observe. I would love to be able to go there and sit with her. Apparently you are allowed to sit for as long as you want. To sit and stare in another person’s eyes is really an amazingly uncommon act in this modern world where…well, where we post comments on blogs and never see the people on the other side of the screen.

    I have an artist’s soul, but I am not at all a “sophisticated” kind of person. Wine, for example, is too sophisticated for me. But I still find the simple idea behind Abramovic sitting with another person, to be a very profound and powerful performance piece. But as I said, I think you have to be sitting there with her to really appreciate it.

  27. LouiseA says:

    Looking at the faces of the viewers, I was struck by how homely New Yorkers are. But yet how beautiful is the compassion in their eyes! This was worth seeing, and so unintentionally the viewers made it the best modern art exhibit I have seen. Like another poster said, how seldom do people just sit and stare into the eyes of another human being in silence, gazing into the soul of another? It was obviously very moving, as many had tears streaming down their faces. What other modern art exhibit touches souls like that and lets the viewers see the human soul? I would venture to say that this was a first time experience… perhaps they will go home and take a good long serious unblinking look into their own souls?

  28. Stirling says:

    As someone who has been interested and engaged in art for most of my adult life, I have to say that there is little that happens in the art community that surprises me.

    There is a tremendous amount of one-upmanship that happens in the performance art community and what is interesting about Abramovic’s work is that it is very much a counter-current to that general trend of escalation (that she herself certainly engaged in, don’t forget). From the times article (hopefully your blog won’t melt, Fr.Z) :

    “But my guess is that her presence will have a demonstrable effect on visitors to the museum; that it will slow them down, get them out of drive-by looking mode.”

    In a culture whose attention span is shrinking, it is remarkable that something so simple as a woman sitting in a chair can hold so many in rapt attention. I think that she certainly knew that this would happen and like many contemporary artists, she is deliberately playing with her audience.

    I also think that her piece (and other performance pieces) certainly highlights some of the ills within our society because like the artwork of any time period, it serves as a cultural barometer. I don’t necessarily think that most contemporary art is anathema–it can be viewed in the light that what these artists highlight are reflections of our society and the issues they raise need to be discussed. It got us discussing it, right?

    Anyway, this is just my two cents.

  29. pfreddys says:

    I have to say that I have actually broken her record. For the past 28 years I have been a performance accountant…I have to inform hell’s bible of this, I’m sure they will deem my performance a triumph!

  30. gloriainexcelsis says:

    This is a sad commentary on our civilization and its emptiness.

  31. Sliwka says:

    Re: Stirling and attenditon spans

    That si teh same idea Andy Warhol had with his long films (upwards of 9 hours long) fixated on a single sleeping subject, or the Empire State building.

    This may sound pretentious, but i do not mean it that way, but is is a way to experience time. When we are doing things, time usually seems to fly by, but when sitting watching a clock–it takes forever.

  32. Art for fart’s sake.

    To quote Calvin and Hobbes, the problem with modern art is that you never know who is scamming whom.

  33. To me, art is supposed to elevate the human spirit to new heights. The paintings of Titian, Raphael, Michelangelo, Renoir, and Monet are profound statements on the nature of humanity and the world we live in. Alas, sitting in a chair and being stared at all day by strangers is not art. It’s just stupidity and meanless laziness.

  34. Dr. Eric says:

    This is what people with no talent do.

  35. Jason C. says:

    This is what people with no talent do.

    A person with no artistic talent would not be able to make anything artistic out of such a simple encounter. That’s what separates artists from non-artists. The artist is able to see with different eyes.

    When the average person sees a painting by Michelangelo in an art museum, do they have some kind of supernatural experience? I would say they usually don’t. They think the painting looks pretty and they move on to the next painting. For other people, that same painting might lead to a very profound experience.

    But in Abramovic’s performance, and in a Michelangelo painting, there is the possibility that even a non-artist will have a profound experience…that they will, however briefly, see with different eyes, with artistic eyes. And I would imagine that takes place with some of the people who go and sit with Abramovic. And I’m sure many other people just sit and don’t experience anything at all. That doesn’t take away the artistic nature of the performance.

  36. patrick_f says:

    I married an art history major, and the same thing that is happening to religion, music, literature, has happpened to the arts. Every little bit of stupidity passes now. people are being spoon fed pre chewed meat when deep down they want, crave, need steak.

    Good riddin’s to bad rubish I say

  37. bookworm says:

    In 1952 composer John Cage wrote a piece called “4′ 33”,” which consisted of a musician sitting at his piano (or other instrument) and playing nothing for three “movements” lasting a total of 4 minutes and 33 seconds. To go from that to a 700-hour “silent opera” doesn’t surprise me at all.

    Cage claimed that the, ahem, melody of 4′ 33″ didn’t consist of dead silence but of the ambient sounds the audience heard while it was (not) played. I presume a similar rationale was used in the case of the silent opera.

    Either way, I still don’t get it.

  38. AnAmericanMother says:

    When art becomes what the viewer brings to the table (as here) rather than what the artist brings to the table, it’s pointless.

    I twigged to this racket back when my mother was studying with Merce Cunningham. He did a ‘non dance’ to Cage’s ‘non music’.

  39. Well, it may or may not be performance art, but it certainly is marketing art. Of course, we never see the important part — convincing museums to pay for this stuff, convincing the folks at parties that you’re an important artist, and preparing people’s minds that they’re about to have a deep meaningful experience instead of just shrugging.

  40. QMJ says:

    Ah, providence. Before reading the above, I read this earlier today:

    “Thomas Mann, in his Doctor Faustus, has fashioned a nightmare that can serve as an appropriate though extreme, paradigm: the demonic Tempter strikes a deal with the nihilistic protagonist who craves immediate success and universal acclaim by any possible means. The deal concerns ‘art’, created with uncommon technical skill yet entirely without substance, thriving only on the surprise it elicits by being outrageously novel and therefore unable to radiate any deeper meaning. As the Far Eastern proverb puts it, ‘Those who only look at themselves do ever radiate nothing.'”
    – from Joseph Peiper’s “Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation”, page 63.

  41. lofstrr says:


    A review befitting the performance I think.

    And you, Father, are hardly simple and unsophisticated.

  42. joan ellen says:

    This event took place in a museum…an art museum. I did not view this event, this work of silent art, but after reading the good posts here I came up with the following words:

    Though there is not an apparent battle, etc., the words ‘Silent Coli-see-um Art’ come to mind, unless ‘Silent Mu-see-um Art’ words work better.

    Sorry, Fr., could not resist! I agree with those who say “Poor Jesus, alone in so many Tabernacles.

  43. marniebcn says:

    @Rachel Pineda
    where did you find the photos of the faces? I searched the MoMA sight and Flickr and could not find them.


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