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Read the Full Text of Yvonne Rainer’s Letter Denouncing Marina Abramovic’s L.A. MOCA Gala

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Earlier this morning, ARTINFO reported that famed choreographer Yvonne Rainer sent a letter to Los Angeles MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch denouncing artist Marina Abramovic’s plans for the museum’s annual gala, which involves installing performers under gala tables, turning them into disembodied rotating heads for three-hour-long stretches over a period of two days. The performers would be paid a paltry $150 for their troubles. Read the full text of the letter below.

November 9, 2011

To Jeffrey Deitch:

I am writing to protest the “entertainment” about to be provided by Marina Abramovic at the upcoming donor gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It has come to my attention that a number of young people will be ensconced under the diners’ tables on lazy Susans and also be required to display their nude bodies under fake skeletons.

This description is reminiscent of “Salo,” Pasolini’s controversial film of 1975 that dealt with sadism and sexual abuse of a group of adolescents at the hands of a bunch of post-war fascists. Reluctant as I am to dignify Abramovic by mentioning Pasolini in the same breath, the latter at least had a socially credible justification in the cause of anti-fascism. Abramovic and MOCA have no such credibility, only a flimsy personal rationale about eye contact. Subjecting her performers to public humiliation at the hands of a bunch of frolicking donors is yet another example of the Museum’s callousness and greed and Ms Abramovic’s obliviousness to differences in context and to some of the implications of transposing her own powerful performances to the bodies of others. An exhibition is one thing — this is not a critique of Abramovic’s work in general — but titillation for wealthy diners as a means of raising money is another.

Ms Abramovic is so wedded to her original vision that she – and by extension, the Museum director and curators — doesn’t see the egregious associations for the performers, who, though willing, will be exploited nonetheless. Their desperate voluntarism says something about the generally exploitative conditions of the art world such that people are willing to become victims of a celebrity artist in the hopes of somehow breaking into the show biz themselves. And at sub-minimal wages for the performers, the event verges on economic exploitation and criminality.

This grotesque spectacle promises to be truly embarrassing. We the undersigned wish to express our dismay that an institution that we have supported can stoop to such degrading methods of fund raising. Can other institutions be far behind? Must we re-name MOCA “MODFR” or the Museum of Degenerate Fund Raising?


Yvonne Rainer

See our full article for more details.

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  1. by carolyn milner

    sigh. Thank God I went to a lecture where the professor warned us there would be critics who ‘just would not get it’ or simply had another agenda. Here is a perfect example.

  2. by Caroline Crumpacker

    Ummm, has the museum lost its mind??!

  3. LMAO!!! If Marinovich wants to make a spectacle of herself, egotistic exhibtionism her forte, go right ahead. But as galas are nothing but hubristic orgy’s of soulless materialism this fits right in. I find it very appropriate but get her mini legions of self absorbed friends and followers to do it. They have no pride, so what the heck!

    By the way, i am being locked out, censored, in responding to the article on the main page. So much for creativity and free speech in the money based investment world of the museo/academic/gallery complex. It is truly just the society pages anyway, “art” just an excuse to party. Got to have something to talk about, they dont really have anything to say themselves.

    Have a nice day! Poor actors, this is spiritual rape. Do the Nancy Reagan and just say no!!!

    Save the color filled and spiritual Watts Towers(Nuestro Pueblo, Our Town)
    Tear down the drab, decadent and souless Ivories.

  4. I wonder how that $150/person compares to what Abramovic is making for this. SAYING.

  5. Yvonne is right. What is allegedly going to occur sounds heinous! But what more do you expect? The art world is about celebrity, dollar bills, trips to basel, and brad pitt and angelina joli. It’s pathetic.

  6. Vulgar.

  7. Abuse and desperation are often the fuel that the art worlds often run on. We would all love for it to be talent and value. But once you move out into the audience, the nature of the attraction that drives the audience, well, things change. As I understand it, gropers were something to be worried about when performers were working MA’s MoMA show.

    To be honest, I sounds like someone should just hire some strippers, but the fact is that strippers would want more than 150 dollars. And likely less compliant as they are mostly old hands at this. Of course, that would also change the context. Wondering now whether the donors might shy away from being treated to strippers.

  8. It sounds EXACTLY like a prank we used to play on tourists when I worked at CLUB MED. Exactly.

  9. Jealousy on the part of Rainer in its finest form – the protection of innocent artists. She herself is desperate for some of the attention being given to Abramovic and this is a pathetic footnote to the end of her career.

  10. The LA Times Culture Monster is pretending its a disgruntled dancer, and that Rainier needs to see the “work” before commenting. after they use actors and strip them of all dignity for the effete pleasure of the tacky nouveau riche. They do not deny the presentation, just want “dialouge”. Read rationalization of decadence.

  11. I am sick and bored by Marina and her antics in the name of performance art. Performance has been given a bad name by this ludicrous re-presenter of once masterful and unique pieces and her own quite ridiculous piece at MoMa in NY. She has clearly never gown up and lives only to sustain a non existent reputation on the backs and bodies of others.

  12. Shut up, art has been dead for almost a decade, YOU complaining fart sniffing sensitive asshololics don’t get shit about shit. Whine Whine whine Fuck off, Marina isn’t the answer but she has done some great stuff in the past and if some stupid wannabee artist types get their jollies being paid to be nude tables that’s THEIR business, fuck them and fuck you and fuck NASA, bring forth an Alien Apocalypse

  13. If Ms. Abramovic is looking to avoid “gala fatigue”,as she’s quoted as saying in the LA Times, perhaps she should recruit her “models” from the numerous tent cities springing up outside of LA. She would be virtually guaranteed to provide anything but another boring fundraiser, by giving a truly needy person the opportunity to create his or her own “charismatic space without being funny”.

    The suffering and humiliation of homeless participants might be simply too much for diners to take, however, as they may be perceived to be suffering enough already. The reality, though, is that they would not be as fun to look at or interact with, though I’ll bet they could use the $150.

    Screening participants for physically fit, well-fed, educated people, who understand her work makes a certain sense in terms of their ability to do the job, but the implications go far deeper.

    Let’s face it, watching someone suffer while you enjoy a meal is or should be extremely discomforting. If the viewer/diner can rationalize away that discomfort with the understanding that the participants have been screened for acceptability, paid something, and have some overt desire to participate in the performance, that the knowledge of their complicity somehow alleviates the discomfort of the viewer/diner would be wrong.
    Yvonne Rainer is right. This is exploitative in the extreme.

  14. Artists exploited? Criminal wages? In the pay example stated in the article the exploited artists are receiving $50 per hour; hardly criminal wages. Plus if the performers are taught & trained by Abramovic for specifically the purpose she is using them for and it is seen by them as training for that medium and an career opportunity(which it may well be) the alledged objectification isn’t objectified if the participants wish to be part of it….What Brenda above stated.

  15. by George Emilio Sanchez

    As someone who has worked with both Ms. Rainer and Ms. Abramovic, the letter raises many questions as to role of art and artists in the contemporary world. First, I would hope more information can be provided, and then to see who is responsible for what. I shiver at the use of the word “exploitation” in a day and age when few of us reading this over the internet can actually understand the pain and misery of real exploitation. I have the utmost respect for Yvonne Rainer and consider her a close friend. I have worked with Marina Abramovic and found her to be highly respectful and a true professional who never asked any of us during the MoMA exhibit to do anything we were not comfortable doing in public. On the surface of it, there certainly appear to be serious areas of concern, but I can’t help but wonder what the contracted performers have done to address or rectify these “problems” with either Marina herself, or, with the sponsor being LA’s MoCA.

  16. Alternatively, MOCA could auction off the chance to participate in a Abramovic performance, wherein winning bidders are displayed under tables and on lazy Susans…

  17. Pasolini’s Salo is not about “post-war fascists” – in fact it takes place during the war.

  18. Donald Frazell is a wannabe artist/art critic who has never been solicited for an art show in his life. He has never worked in the arts in any capacity. He is a button pusher at a local copy shop and thats about the best he can do with his extensive education in “world history and the arts. Please note that his distain for artist with degrees is driven by the fact that he doesn’t own a degree in any field. He is not being considered by the Vatican or any other establishment for exhibition. As for his claim of being a man, it’s curious why he still lives in his parents house at the age of 50. He brags of an extensive knowledge of music particularly jazz. How many instruments does he play? None. His knowledge of music and music theory- none. I would challenge Frazell to show me middle C on a piano. I doubt he even knows what that is. Every comment he makes drifts of into a dillusional incoherent babel about anything from jazz, to his days as a professional basketball coach (???), to his former Nation of Islam Taibo Goddess (if you can imagine such a thing). He is also known for physically attacking gallery owners when they don’t give him a show. This is a fact. Beware of this man (if you can call him that). I implore Frazell to please spare the rest of the civilized world of his disjointed rants and distasteful perspectives. I would also encourage him to get a real education in something useful and relevant. He will never make a career in the arts. He is a mediocre painter whose color palette comes straight from the tube. You have a long way to go and a lot learn before you can call yourself even a frustrated artist best. You’re not even in the ballpark. Your critiques reveal your lack of maturity, sophistication, and most of all common sense. In effect you have revealed yourself to be a true moron.

  19. Please note that the $150 is not for 3 hours work. The volunteers are expected to attend rehearsals all day Friday and all day Saturday in preparation for the 3 hour event Saturday night.

  20. by Jague Williams

    I can see that it is not only L.A. MOCA that has lost all integrity it is also the people commenting on this that have no intelligence. It has come to pass that I no longer find it healthy or even inviting to be an artist because of you bozos.

  21. I concur with Mr. Sanchez (above) that the accusation of exploitation borders on grotesque in light of the fact that we are at war, surrounded by poverty and hunger, complicit in torture, et alia.
    Citing wages also weakens the argument: does being paid a standard wage, or union make degradation more acceptable?
    I commend Ms Rainer’s activism, but I do wonder how the paper got a copy of her letter; calculation dilutes her argument.
    Mr. Deitch apparently invited Ms Rainer to one of Ms Abramovic’s rehearsals; how wise, clever and inclusive. Perhaps something good will come out of that.
    Viva la ‘conversation!’

  22. The people who have proftied from all the horrors you just listed are the very same who will be attending this debauchery, amazing how blind and self serving the artworld can be. Like brown nosing a robber baron bean counter like Eli Broad will really ever get you anything, LMAO!

    And see the cut and paste bandit strikes again! Not exactly Zorro.
    Conversation,haha! PC blinders strike again!


  23. by Hari Dev Singh

    @Sanchez, I agree that we most of us don’t see the “sex,drug and poverty” exploitation the eats many of the young people in this country. There are plenty of ways young,middle aged, and old peoples lives in this country are taken.
    A buffet of young flesh offered up for the pleasure of the rich? An art instillation offered as an artists communication to our culture in general is a very different thing.

  24. “A terrible epoch is brewing for the coming generation:
    the kingdom of gold.
    Everything is putrefied, even men, even the arts.”

    Paul Gauguin

  25. It seems things have degenerated to a point where there is a complete lack of spontaneity and imagination on the part of all involved in planning this spectacle— from the organizers, to the trustees (who supposedly applauded the idea) to Abramovic and, finally, maybe even the guests. I say ‘perhaps’ because this kind of spectacle, in addition to degrading the performers, seems to insult the attendees too, in a sense. I mean, are people so bored with themselves– and each other — that they need a spectacle like this in order to attend a benefit and support their city’s museum? Has all sense of civility, sociability, and intelligence, been lost, to the point that they can’t even manage some decent conversation at their $2500 per person dinner? What are they there for anyway? I think the event does a disservice to the artist performers, as well as the high paying guests, in the end. But, that’s just me.

  26. “After us the Deluge” Madame de Pompadour
    Have at it, MOCA! Pathetic!!

  27. Bravo! Proof that once again, we are so bored with the mundane that we have become as decadent as taste will not allow. Next, they’ll be sacrificing the innocents to the lions as the crowds cheer and hand over those credit cards. .

  28. If you pay someone to shit on you & call it performance art, you have still just paid someone to shit on you.

  29. by artpowerlines

    Does anyone really expect anything less from Jeffrey Deitch? And Carol Vogel at the NY Times is his marketing machine.

    As for Marina, thanks Yvonne R for attempting to knock her off her pedestal. Her exhibition at MOMA was nothing but spectacle and a Twitter blitz. A far cry from where her work started.

    It’s impossible to subvert the Art World by using the same language and system of the Art World.

    Shirin Neshat’s Performa Piece “Overruled” fell into the same dilemma. In another context, it might have worked. In the context of the NYC Chelsea Art World.

  30. by artpowerlines

    …it didn’t.

  31. That wasn’t performance art.

    It was simply ambiance for a dinner.

    Yvonne missed her mood stabilizing pill the day she decided to write that letter, giving Marina’s crappy idea for a “piece” more credibility that it ever deserved.

    Looking forward to a new director at MOCA, someone not from New York and someone who’s not still living in 1983 and obsessed with People Magazine.

  32. Are you not entertained!

  33. Here, for those of you who still unconvinced that the museum treats the kitchen staff better than it does artists, take the quiz.


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