“The Cleaner”: Marina Abramovic’s Retrospective Exhibition Opening

By: Marissa Acey, MA, 2018

If you were near Piazza Strozzi last Thursday evening, you probably saw the throngs of people amassing upon the doors of the Odeon Cinema. Don’t worry, you didn’t miss the memo for a free pizza party, though for the people that attended, the event was just as great as free food!

Thursday September 20th marked the day that Marina Abramovic came back to Florence for the opening of her retrospective, titled “The Cleaner”, at Palazzo Strozzi, interestingly the first ever solo woman show put on by the foundation. Luckily for me, the MA students in Museum Studies (and some lucky plus-ones!) were able to attend not only the exhibition opening, but also a talk with the woman herself before the doors of Strozzi opened to the public.

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Uh, she is so cute and humble!!

For those of you who don’t know, Marina Abramovic is a Serbian performance artist who basically pioneered the medium. She has been active in art for over four decades and her pieces are often dealing with the relationship between the performer and the audience while pushing the boundaries of intimacy, social constructs, and the body. Her most notable work is probably The Artist is Present from 2010, a performance piece conducted over 2 months at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (there’s a documentary, go watch it!!), but I’m sure you’ve seen a least a picture or two from some of her other unique performance pieces as well.

Unfortunately, for those of us whose only Italian consists of ‘ciao’, ‘grazie’, and ‘dov’e il bagno?’, it was a bit difficult to follow along with most of the panel speakers presenting alongside Marina. From what I could gather, they only had wonderful things to say about her 50 prolific years of performing and creating art and were elated to welcome her back to Florence, a city that she has visited and worked in few times throughout her prosperous life.

The real treat came when Marina herself spoke (in English, woohoo!). From someone that has been to many museums and exhibitions, I can say that it gives you a whole new perspective when you hear directly from the artist’s mouth what they intended and hope will translate to their audience through their art. Though Marina herself will not personally be performing any of her pieces throughout the exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi, hearing her speak about how much importance she puts on “the pure energy between (her) and the spectator” and that her pieces are comprised of “layers” of the “spiritual, social, political, dangerous, (and the) future,” inspired the audience to see this exhibition through her own eyes.

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A night of queues

After the talk (and after waiting in yet another crowded line that seemed to be filled with half of Florence), we were finally able to enter Palazzo Strozzi to see the culmination of Marina’s life works displayed and performed by trained professionals. Warning for those squeamish of nudity, slight gore, and oddities that make you incredibly uncomfortable: you may want to skip out on this exhibition, though if you do, you’ll really be missing out on a completely individual experience. The space was curated uniquely with not only physical performers acting out astonishing pieces, but also dynamic video displays, installation works, and even interactive experiences for the viewer to enjoy.

The main thing I request from anyone going to this exhibition is to be patient and don’t rush. Marina is notorious for pushing her body beyond its limits, performing particular pieces for days and weeks without food or bathroom breaks. These instances are summed up into montage videos and immersive experiences, but her entire outlook on art and life takes its time. The least us as viewers can do is to spend more than 30 seconds in a room only to take a picture and then hurry on to the next spectacle.

What is great about the exhibition, and Marina’s art in general, is that it really is about us, how we react and connect to her art, to each other, and to ourselves. We take away what we want and respond to our world in kind. As she so simply put it at the end of her speech while we all sat in awe of her presence, “Now, it’s up to you.”

The exhibition will be going on until January 20, 2019. Make sure to stop by in November when her performance piece The House with the Ocean View will begin in which a trained performer will live for 12 days in three open rooms of a house in the middle of the exhibition space.

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