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Read Yvonne Rainer’s Final Letter Decrying Marina Abramovic’s MOCA Performance

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Last Friday, ARTINFO reported that famed choreographer Yvonne Rainer was sending a letter in opposition to Marina Abramovic’s “exploitative” performance planned for L.A. MOCA’s annual gala. We included the text of a draft of the letter in that report, but the full text of the letter, written after Rainer attended a rehearsal of the performance, can be found below, as seen on Artforum.

The blow back from the conflict seems to have turned against Rainer. The Los Angeles Times’s Culture Monster blog reports that the participating performers largely found the experience positive, and that guests either enjoyed or ignored their presence at the dinner.

Continue on for the full, final letter from Yvonne Rainer.

To Jeffrey Deitch:

After observing a rehearsal, I am writing to protest the “entertainment” about to be provided by Marina Abramović at the upcoming donor gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art where a number of young people’s live heads will be rotating as decorative centerpieces at diners’ tables and others—all women—will be required to lie perfectly still in the nude for over three hours under fake skeletons, also as centerpieces surrounded by diners.

On the face of it the above description might strike one as 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 postwar fascists. Though it is hard to watch, Pasolini’s film has a socially credible justification tied to the cause of anti-fascism. Abramović and MoCA have no such credibility—and I am speaking of this event itself, not of Abramović’s work in general—only a questionable personal rationale about the beauty of eye contact and the transcendence of artists’ suffering.

At the rehearsal the fifty heads—all young, beautiful, and mostly white—turning and bobbing out of holes as their bodies crouched beneath the otherwise empty tables, appeared touching and somewhat comic, but when I tried to envision 800 inebriated diners surrounding them, I had another impression. I myself have never been averse to occasional epatering of the bourgeoisie. However, I can’t help feeling that subjecting her performers to possible public humiliation and bodily injury from the three-hour endurance test at the hands of a bunch of frolicking donors is yet another example of the Museum’s callousness and greed and Ms Abramović’s obliviousness to differences in context and some of the implications of transposing her own powerful performances to the bodies of others. An exhibition is one thing—again, this is not a critique of Abramovic’s work in general—but titillation for wealthy donor/diners as a means of raising money is another.

Ms Abramović 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 cheerful voluntarism says something about the pervasive desperation and cynicism of the art world such that young people must become abject table ornaments and clichéd living symbols of mortality in order to assume a novitiate role in the temple of art.

This grotesque spectacle promises to be truly embarrassing. I and 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 “MOUFR” or the Museum of Unsavory Fund Raising?


Yvonne Rainer
Douglas Crimp
Tom Knechtel
Monica Majoli
Liz Kotz
Michael Duncan
Matias Viegener
Judie Bamber
Kimberli Meyer
Kathrin Burmester
Nizan Shaked
Alexandro Segade
David Burns
A.L. Steiner
Simon Leung
Moyra Davey
Taisha Paggett
Susan Silton
Silvia Kolbowski
Susan Mogul
Julian Hoeber
Catherine Lord
Zoe Beloff
Lincoln Tobier
Millie Wilson
Mary Kelly
Charles Gaines
Amy Sadao
Gregg Bordowitz
Andrea Geyer
Lucas Michael
Liz Deschenes
Ulrike Muller
Nancy Popp
Su Freidrich
Dean Daderko
Litia Perta
Ginger Brooks Takahashi
Stefan Kalmar
bell hooks
Julie Ault
Zoe Leonard
Molly Corey
Sharon Horvath
Rachel Harrison
John Zurier
Day Gleeson
Thomas Miccelli
John Yau
Ernest Larsen

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  1. While I am so happy someone within the arts community finally spoke up about what ahs been building for over 20 years, with roots in teh resurgence of the art academy around 1960, this misses teh point.

    That art has been so used for so long to justify the desires, avarice, decadence, and hubris of the social elite, ie. robber barons, partiers, art investors, socialmclimbers, nouveaur riche, those who are behinbd destroying the worlds economy and resources, the biggest abusers of our world.
    This is the issue.

    Contempt art is all about glorifying the indivudal, here the “tastes’ fo thsoe participating, and destroys the sense of One, of unifying humanity to promote the egos of the few. it is the opposite and enemy of Medern art, which evolved to get rid of that cumbersome art that actually made one face oneself and ones place in Our universe.

    This was never art, it is the sister of haute coutoure, decadence and arrogance, revealing the withered souls and small minds of those who have no idea of the world they live in, but focus on stealing as much as they can.

    He who dies with the msot toys wins. Eli Broad wins this useless game. For game and therapy this is. It never was meant to be art.

  2. Honestly, this sounds more like something appropriate for the event of the adult film industry’s AVN Awards. Decadence rides again. Every so often I come to believe that the world has been elevated beyond degradation, and lewd and vulgar behavior. I’m sorry to hear, once again, that we have not.

  3. I participated in this piece as one of the Artist’s Life Manifesto chorus. Ms. Rainer, you completely missed the point. Every performer there was operating under their own power and agency. You seem to think that this event was all about you and the rich, and really, what is the difference? You both reek of entitlement. Because, actually, it was all about us, the performers. And the piece was truly a fascinating experiment. To set the people who invented being watched in a situation of being gazed upon created the most elegant mirror. You may have seen just a bunch of heads. Those are people. They are living and dying their lives right now. And they were all hearing, all seeing, all feeling and all full of power. We were present. Not you. Marina Abramovic was kind, funny, concerned, brilliant and generous of spirit. If only more people would get down on the ground and off their high horse.

    Honey McMoney, performance artist

  4. To Honey: I’m not sure how much you know about Yvonne’s finances, but to lump her in with the rich (those donors, presumably) is preposterous. Yes, she’s gotten grants over the 40+ years of her career, and I would say they’re well-deserved, but if you think artists shouldn’t get public or private money to support their art, then I wonder why you would defend Abramowicz, who’s gotten buckets of money. Whether or not you agree with Yvonne’s assessment of this event, it’s gross and stupid with claim there’s no difference between an artist who has done loads of great work over many years, and often without enough money to do it, and those wealthy donors. They do indeed reek of entitlement (i.e. they assume they should have everything without doing much to earn it). Yvonne on the other hand has paid her dues as a hard working artist and doesn’t reek of anything (except maybe anger at seeing other artists being exploited, which is what she thought was happening here).

  5. LMAO! Exactly the problem, No, it is NOT about you, Artists dont matter, art does. You are no more nor less important than anyone else, you have a job to do in human culture, you are NOT culture itself.
    It is about US, always, seeking the essense of who WE are. this is about the rich using a buncha wide eyed, self absorbed, egotistical babies for their own purposes, easy to do so with but a temptation of recognition. That is therapy my dear, not art.
    Get some help, this wont do it.

    Sigh, another squeeky clean but decadent reason why,
    art collegia delenda est
    Fine art academies must be destroyed.

  6. Hi Su,

    Let me clarify regarding entitlement. Ms Rainer felt that from her position of authority she was entitled to tell the performers in the piece how we were being treated and how we should feel. Essentially she stepped in to save us. Ms Rainer’s art work does not put her in an exaulted place vis-a-vis my body and my actions.

    There is plenty to discuss about money and art and patronage. Why Rainer chose to take issue with the work and the artists instead of Deitch and Broad if those were her real targets, I can not say. Those same art world forces support her work through her university job or foundation grants. If anything it feels like Rainer has exploited my experience as a spot to put her soapbox. Why wasn’t she standing up for the catering staff? Now there is a shit job!

    omg isn’t the world crazy?


  7. Yes, it obviously is as the art and economic Sophists have so twisted, the above but one more proof.

    art collegia delenda est
    fine art academies must be destroyed.
    Storm these Bastiles! Occupy!

  8. I echo Honey McMoney’s sentiments to the tee!!! I was a center”spinning gazing head”piece and I thoroughly enjoyed my part in Marina Abramovic’s latest performance art piece “An Artist’s Manifesto” at Moca Gala 2011!!!

    As well, a few years back I was in a nude subway shoot in NYC with Marina Abramovic, and it was a blast, Martin Schoeller shot it, and it was published in Stern Magazine…

    - Carpe Diem – Janice Marie Foote -

  9. I do think its a little out of order to state so vehemently that the catering staff have such a shit job!

  10. Well, artistes think all real jobs are shitty, thats why they became artistes, to avoid work. Its just so beneath them, and of course takes skill and labor.

    art collegia delenda est
    Fine art academies must be destroyed.

  11. Hi Emma

    Point being, the caterers were probably busting ass for not much money, especially in relation to monies spent. Here’s hoping they were all loving it!


  12. Frazell let’s tell the truth, you hqve a “real” job (commanding a xerox machine at kinko’s) because you are not a real artist. This is why you hate real artist that live from their work. Because you can’t accomplish this you discount cresting art fulltime as not being real work. Maybe if Cezanne cleaned toilets on the side he would be more respected? Or perhaps DiVinci was a window cleaner? I’m sure that would have added to the impact of his contributions. I say this not to diminish the occupation of window cleaning or toilet maintenance, but to illustrate that everyone has their place in society. Thats what makesvthe world go round. In the cycle of life even the maggot has his place. What is apparent and quite unfortunate is that not all maggots know how to stay in their place.

  13. Reading the first paragraph I didn’t think they were actually going to be live human heads to be displayed until I reached the end of the paragraph where it mentions that the women to be used for this ‘artistic’ piece would have to be perfectly still. At first it kind of is humorous in a way but when you imagine the dinning guest and having the ‘live’ heads just being there on the table as the people are sitting that the table eating their dinner, that’s just a bit creepy in a way. Would they have to refrain from blinking as well. That just up’s the creepy factor, seeing a head as the centerpiece of a table, blinking. I’d want to put a napkin or handkerchief over it at least until the meal is finished. Even though it is art in its own way, it’s quite creepy to have a real life human head just right there when you’re trying to enjoy your meal.

  14. Yvonne gets it. “Honey McMoney” doesn’t. No surprise there in light of her name.

  15. Mr. Ehrenstein, please go back to your third hand experience.

    And that’s Mr. McMoney to you.

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