b. 1946, Belgrade, Yugoslavia
Marina Abramović was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1946. In 1965, her work Truck Accidents was shown at the Workers’ Union Center and the Youth Cultural Center in Belgrade. She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade from 1965 to 1970 and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb from 1970 to 1972. She went on to teach at the Academy of Arts, University of Novi Sad from 1973 to 1975.
Initially a painter, Abramović subsequently shifted her focus to conceptual work, sound pieces, and Performance art. In 1973–74, she performed several works named Rhythm, intended to stretch the limits of her body and mind. In Rhythm 2, for example, she took drugs that gave her convulsions or seizures. In 1975, she performed The Lips of Thomas, in which she cut, beat, and froze herself. Many of her early works were documented in photographs; she would later use video to capture their energy.
Abramović moved to Amsterdam in 1975, where she met artist Uwe Laysiepen (known as Ulay), with whom she would live and collaborate until 1988. They inhabited a Citroën police van from the late 1970s into the 1980s, a lifestyle choice that merged with their belief that freeing the mind and spirit was only possible after physical deprivation. In 1980–83, they visited Aboriginal groups in Australia before traveling to the Sahara, Thar, and Gobi deserts. Their time spent in the desert inspired a shift in emphasis from the physical to the mental. From the early to mid-1980s, the pair presented their Nightsea Crossing works, in which they sat silently and motionless for anywhere from several hours to sixteen days. After two years traveling in China, in 1988 Abramović and Ulay spent almost three months walking toward each other from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China. Upon meeting, they formally ended their relationship.
In 1989 Abramović started making “objects” of quartz and other minerals that have symbolic value to her. Many of these objects invite the participation of viewers, who can sit or stand on her stone ledges and wear her mineral “shoes.” In 1989, with the assistance of Charles Atlas, she began working on Biography, which she first performed in 1992. Varying with every presentation, the work includes the artist’s live re-creation, in condensed form, of her earlier Performance works.
In 1995 Abramović presented Cleaning the Mirror #1, a three-hour performance in which she scrubbed a human skeleton clean. In The House with the Ocean View (2002), she inhabited a temporary space, built at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York, for twelve days, exposing all of her actions to the public. Abramović has maintained her interest in the powers of the mind, investigating Eastern mysticism and Zen Buddhism, among other forms of spirituality.
In 2005 Abramović presented Seven Easy Pieces at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, in which she reenacted seminal works originally performed by her contemporaries at a prior times and in different spaces. In reinterpreting works by Vito Acconci and Bruce Nauman, for example, Abramović directly commented on repetition and documentation, issues that resonate throughout her body of work. For Seven Easy Pieces, the artist received the U.S. Art Critics Association Award for the best exhibition in time-based art. In 2008 Abramović exhibited 8 Lessons on Emptiness with a Happy End at Galerie Guy Bärtschi in Geneva, a five-channel video installation in which she addressed the portrayal of violence in contemporary media.
In 1990–91 Abramović taught at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin and the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and in 1992 at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg. One of her workshops required students to fast for four of its eight days. In 1992–93, she was awarded a fellowship from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst Berliner Künstlerprogramm. In 1997 she worked as a professor at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Braunschweig. In 2004 she received an honorary doctorate from the Art Institute of Chicago.
Abramović’s art has been featured in numerous solo exhibitions, including shows organized by the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin (1993), Museum of Modern Art in Oxford (1995), Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent in Ghent (1997), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (2005), and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (2008). A retrospective of Abramović’s work opened in the spring of 2010 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Her numerous solo performances have included presentations of Biography at Documenta 9 (1992) and Balkan Baroque at the Venice Biennale (1997). The latter received the Biennale’s Leone d’Oro award. She was awarded the Niedersächsicher Kunstpreis from the government of Lower Saxony in 2003 and the Commander’s Cross in Vienna in 2008. Abramović lives in New York.