In 2010, the MOMA in New York hosted a massive retrospective of the works by the world-renowned Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic called The Artist is Present. On display were works she had created over four decades in a variety of media including video, sound, and photography. Most significantly, Abromovic, who is known to use the body to convey her art, made the exhibition famous around the world through a piece of performance where she sat silently on a chair in the middle of the large gallery for seven hours a day, six days a week, for the nearly three months that the exhibition ran. Audience members were invited to sit on a chair opposite and gaze at her in silence.
By the time the show ended she had sat on the chair for more than 700 hours, and nearly 1500 people had sat opposite her including celebs like Lou Reed, Isabella Rossellini, Bjork and Marisa Tomei. The performance was hailed as one of the most watched art shows ever, with over a half a million people visiting the various parts of the exhibit, and close to two million watching it on social media where it was streamed live.
The landmark performance has inspired a variety of artists and designers over the years. The latest being Gucci creative director, Alessandro Michele whose own pathbreaking work at the brand over the last three years have involved references to the luxury fashion house’s rich past, and reimagining the memorable visuals associated with a variety of recent pop cultural touch points like the 1980s video game pioneer Sega, the Elton John fashion and accessories archive, 1990s Harlem fashionista Dapper Dan, vintage Major League Baseball accessories, and the works of Spanish illustrator Ignasi Monreal.
Michele has now teamed up with the famed Italian sculptor Maurizio Cattelan, well known for his often satirical and humorous take on the world, to conceive a Gucci sponsored art exhibition in Shanghai that is not only inspired by Abramovic’s The Artist is Present show but is called by the same name. In their own words, it is deliberate “act of appropriation”. The name they say aims at “demonstrating how the act of copying can be considered a noble act of creation, featuring the same artistic value as the original.”
The show which opened at the city’s Yuz Museum last month and will run through December, features site-specific and existing works of 30 Chinese and international artists that question “the most hallowed principles of art in the modern era: originality, intention and expression” and the “complex relationship between image and reality, representation and presentation”. They explore how “originality can be reached through the act of repetition, and how originals themselves can be preserved through copies in a world where the core values that are used to identify with an artwork in the Western world, such as originality, intention, expression, and authorship, are now being dismantled.”
They give the example of what happens when a life-size replica of the Sistine Chapel travels around Mexico. Thousands of people who visit it are no different from those who crowd at a touring show of a big-time singer. In that sense their The Artist is Present show should be seen as a “manifesto based on the concept that appreciation of a work relies on engagement with ideas rather than on simple visual gratification of an original artwork.” As Maurizio Cattelan puts it, “Copying is like blasphemy: it could seem not respectful towards God, but at the same time is the significant recognition of its existence.”
Image Courtesy: The Artist is Present, Shanghai 2018 Exhibition View