Performance artist Marina Abramovic has acquired a large theatre in Hudson, a village about two hours north of Manhattan, where she plans to establish a nonprofit foundation dedicated to performance art. “I want it to function as a research centre for performance,” she told The Art Newspaper, describing plans for artist workshops, courses for the public, a library, and a grants programme. The 1930s building (in recent decades used as an indoor tennis centre and a storage facility) must be completely renovated, but she hopes to mount programmes in the raw 20,000 sq ft space as early as summer 2008. To fund the $950,000 purchase she sold the property in Amsterdam where she lived before moving to New York. She expects to take possession of the Hudson building on 1 December and to incorporate the Marina Abramovic Foundation for Preservation of Performance Art in spring 2008.
“The big dream in my life was to make a foundation for the preservation of performance art,” says the Yugoslav-born artist who is perhaps the best known practitioner of performance art and the subject of a 2010 retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art. “It will be a laboratory,” she says, explaining that her foundation will present works in progress as well as finished performances that will travel. Plans call for post-production equipment such as high-definition video cameras, projectors and editing facilities, and eventually a second property to house resident artists.
“I want to enlarge the idea of performance, to invite scientists, philosophers, people who are dealing with completely different subjects to talk in relation to the body and the performance world,” she says. One idea is to have Hans Ulrich Obrist organise experiments by scientists in front of the public. “Different people will meet, ideas can be exchanged and something creative can take place. My dream about this is like the Andy Warhol factory without drugs,” she says.
“I would like to have a similar concept to the Watermill Centre of Robert Wilson,” she says, referring to the nonprofit artist-residency and workshop programme that the avant-garde theatre director established on Long Island. Like Watermill, her space will be open to the public for lectures and open rehearsals in order to introduce audiences to the production and appreciation of performance art.
Ms Abramovic, 61, has long had an interest in the history and preservation of a genre that is by its nature ephemeral. Last year she reprised five landmark performance pieces from the 1960s and 1970s (by Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, Valie Export, Gina Pane and Joseph Beuys) on consecutive seven-hour nights at the Guggenheim Museum. She concluded the series with two of her own works, including the riveting “Lips of Thomas” piece in which the naked artist slices a Soviet star into her belly with a razor blade, flagellates herself with a scourge, and lies on an ice-block crucifix, among other unsettling metaphorical actions. “Seven easy pieces” was the marquis event in the inaugural edition of Performa, the New York-based performing arts festival, organised by art historian Roselee Goldberg, that is helping to propel a revival of interest in performance art. (The three-week second edition of Performa closed 20 November.)
Ms Abramovic says that her new centre will involve many European artists whose work is too infrequently presented in the United States. “Being from Europe I feel it is my duty,” she says. The institution will offer instruction for both artists and audiences. “When you come to an age you have to unconditionally help the younger generation of artists,” she says. “This tradition is completely gone — there is no oral tradition like in the old days and this tradition is very important to revival.”
Another function will be to educate audiences how to engage with performance art.
“My interest is in long-durational performance work,” she says, noting that artists today tend to make short piece. “In the 1970s life became so fast and artists wanted to accommodate fast living in their work, so every video presentation became five minutes. It is completely wrong,” she says. “We have to create another time to see the longer work.” The public has to go through a sort of training, she explains, citing her 1994 piece “In between” for which she required the audience to sign a contract promising to spend 40 minutes in the work. “In theatre you have to sit and watch from beginning to end,” she says, “and if you are not sitting you don’t know what to do, you get bored very fast.” She says that people who go to museums are trained to not touch the art. “I want the public to be active participants in the work,” she says.
She plans to hire a curator and a librarian to manage her vast collection of videos and books that she is bringing from her former home in Holland. To realise the project she hopes to gain financial support from local government (Donald Judd’s daughter Rainer is involved with the local government council). After completing work for her MoMA retrospective, she and her husband, the artist Paolo Canevari, will raise funds to restore the Hudson building and endow the foundation. “After that I will dedicate myself to this centre very much,” she says. “The centre is going to be my legacy.”