Art Review magazine's new list of the 100 most powerful people in the contemporary art world pegs Marina Abramovic as Number 5. She's created quite the body of work, as Serena Altschul is about to show us:
Marina Abramovic is not known for painting canvases or shaping clay. She's a peformance artist, and for 40 years, she's been making art with her own body.
In 2010, she staged her most famous performance to date, "The Artist Is Present." Abramovic sat silently in a chair at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, for three months, and people gazed into her eyes.
Altschul asked, "Tell me about what happens when you're sitting across from someone."
"You open the soul, because that is everything there," she replied.
Some of the 750,000 souls who heeded her call seemed hypnotized. Some wept. As for Abramovic, sitting still for hours at a time caused pain in her hands, legs, and her spine.
"If you're doing pain and understanding that you can control the pain, and you can liberate yourself from the pain, then pain is OK," she said.
But you might say that pain is Marina Abramovic's medium. And her message? Deal with it.
Back in 1973, she rhythmically jabbed the spaces between her fingers, at times drawing blood.
Shocking stuff, but to hear the art world tell it, serious, important work that breaks boundaries.
"I mean, it's greatness -- that's it, simply," said Sean Kelly, the first gallery owner to represent her work internationally. "I think that Marina's profound ability to touch people comes from the fact that she never felt she was loved enough."
Abramovic was born in 1946 in Belgrade (then the capital of Yugoslavia). Her parents argued violently with each other, and Abramovic says her mother beat her.
"The worst childhood you have, the better artist you become, because you have things to work with," she said. "Just the fact that my mother never kissed me. It was such a huge, painful thing in my life, and damaged me so much."
"Were you wilder as a young woman, as a teenager?" asked Altschul.
"I was black sheep, completely all my life," she said. "I was absolutely rebel. I had to be rebel. I have to rebel everything and everybody to create my own space."