Marina Abramović made me cry. Over nothing.

Just when you thought the corporate world could become no more greedy, and the art world could become no more vacuous, we have both worlds conveniently encapsulated for us in the Marina Abramović Institute.

Abramović is part of a recognisable demographic of artists who consider themselves to be a priceless gift to the world. I’ve seen and met a lot of them and, unlike me, they are mostly wrong. I’d never heard of her until this video was circulated on Facebook accompanied by the customary OMGs about how amazing and life-changing it is.

I can understand the emotion of a surprise meeting with an ex-lover, and maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t help thinking a combination of “So what?” and “Why?”.

Why not?

Anyway, further to the featured durational work “The Artist is Present”, someone made this blog site “Marina Abramović made me cry” with photos of sensitive liberals blubbing whilst locked in the unwavering gaze of Abramović.

I try to be open and critical and skeptical, but it’s quite possible I’m just an old cynic. However, I really don’t get the personality-cult thing. I expect a bit more from my performance artists than just sitting there and being amazing.

All that said, the video advert she made for the Marina Abramović Institute got me interested. Having watched it, I began to think that the tone of it suggests a genuine sense of humour. At least I hope so, otherwise it’s deeply worrying.

I suppose it’s the cultishness that is the most disturbing element, the open-ended promise of an unidentified, indiscernible something that turns out to be no more than nothing.

The Marina Abramović Institute set up a Kickstarter crowd-funding appeal and promptly raised over $600,000. Who gives money to stuff like this? And what for? Have a look at the goodies she’s offering, including instruction in the “Abramović Method”. I can’t help being reminded of a certain “religion” set up by a certain science fiction writer.

But it’s not her only source of income, and she may or may not benefit directly from the money raised. Have a look at this video “Work relation 2014 – A film by Marina Abramović in collaboration with adidas”.

Of course, “In collaboration” is telling you it’s not an advert and she’s not a sell-out, although it was made for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™.

Rather like Malcolm Gladwell’s skillful repackaging of already widely-understood ideas, in this film, Abramović points out to us in that team-work is more effective than trying to do everything yourself. The blurb on YouTube claims the work “focuses on commitment, teamwork and the strength found in togetherness—reimagined through the lens of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™”. That is that same 2014 FIFA World Cup™, held in Brazil, that bulldozed people’s homes, changed their laws and squandered billions of dollars of public money. John Oliver sums it up better than I ever could:

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? I learned about how a bucket brigade works at primary school age and it’s not something I would go to a performance artist for advice about.

Along with John Lydon, Iggy Pop and Snoop Dogg, it seems all the people we used to see as outsiders are selling out once they get a smell of some advertising moolah, although I wonder how much value a performance artist can provide for your shareholders.

However, the narcissistic personality-cult aspect or corporate sponsorship is not necessarily a problem, if that’s what the art is about, but accepting money and then asking some of (probably) the same people to work for nothing is just taking the piss.

The original classified ad had been deleted now, but the Marina Abramović Institute were looking for people to take professional roles, unpaid:

It may not be illegal but it’s certainly unethical. It is an action that preys upon the gullibility of those people who still believe the lie that “it will lead to other things”. Arts organisations are particularly guilty of abusing the trust of other people and most galleries are staffed at least partially by unpaid interns. It’s mutual masturbation, though, as working for nothing is in the hope of getting something for nothing.

However, the people I feel most sorry for are those desperate, misguided wannabes, moved to actual tears by some imagined beatification that they are receiving in the presence of the great Marina Abramović.

It reminds me of the phenomenon observed in the 2008 film “The Mona Lisa Curse” by art critic Robert Hughes. Hughes sums up this kind of vacuous consumption in one sentence. “They didn’t come here to look at the Mona Lisa, they came in order to have seen it.

It’s not about being moved to tears, it’s about being seen to be moved to tears, and hopefully being instagrammed whilst doing it.

Abramović’s latest work is comprised of her doing “nothing” for 512 hours, and has created a bit of a stir because of its similarity to another artist’s work. I love that, apparently this nothing is allegedly plagiarising someone else’s nothing.

However, I don’t think the similarity to Mary Ellen Carroll’s work is the point. It seems Abramović™ just has nothing left to say. But rather like the Daily Mail, lots of people love it. At the Serpentine Gallery until 25th August 2014.

I just don’t get it. The “nothing” business is one of those use-once stunts. You can do it once but it can never work again. Personally, I’ve had more than enough of nothing. In fact, I’m full to the brim of nothing.

Anyway, the only elephant left in this room is the question, would I take corporate sponsorship if I could get it and would I claim that was my own way of fighting from the inside? Well, make me an offer and we’ll find out.

Regardless of my own critical misgivings about Abramović’s work, I can’t help feeling that her willingness to solicit income, but with nothing in return, is grotesquely cynical. When artists start using words like “collaboration” in this grossly inappropriate manner, we can no longer trust their veracity, no matter how epic they might make you feel.

Unless, of course, the whole thing is a satirical stunt. In which case, it’s brilliant.

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