Art experts say Abramovic's performance piece should acknowledge similar work by her contemporary

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 July, 2014, 5:13pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 July, 2014, 5:13pm

Artist Marina Abramovic and London's Serpentine Gallery are embroiled in a row over "nothing".

A group of curators and art historians have written to the gallery questioning why the New York-based Serbian-born Abramovic's latest performance piece - which is on until August 25 and about which she has stressed the importance of "nothing" - fails to acknowledge the influence of another contemporary artist who has made "nothing" central to her work.

Mary Ellen Carroll, a New York-based conceptual artist, has been working on her Nothing project since the 1990s. She has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum in New York and the ICA in London, and is the recipient of Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships. She also exhibited with Abramovic in a group show at the Smart Museum in Chicago in 2012.

The art experts, who have written to Serpentine curator Hans Ulrich Obrist asking him for clarification, fear that without recognition, Carroll's work would be overshadowed by Abramovic's, and that Carroll would find it difficult to perform Nothing in future.

Among those who have been in touch with Obrist are art historian David Joselit, distinguished professor at City University of New York and former Carnegie professor of the history of art at Yale, Frazer Ward, professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and an authority on performance art, and Yona Backer, arts consultant to the Lambent Foundation.

Joselit says the works are different, but both address the "question of nothing. Doing nothing", and the gallery and artist must "acknowledge this genealogy".

Abramovic's piece, 512 Hours, sees the artist appearing in the Serpentine's Hyde Park gallery from 10am to 6pm, six days a week, until August 25. It is billed as "a unique work created for the Serpentine".

"It's the public and me and nothing else," Abramovic says. "I took the objects away. But the encounter? I've never done anything as radical as this. This is as immaterial as you can go." She also says she "wanted to prove that you can make art with nothing".

Carroll, also known as MEC, has been performing variations of her Nothing since 1996. In a piece from 2006, she describes the intention of her work: "Works where/when nothing happens. Images of nothing - is it the activity? Nothingness. Doing nothing? Hybrid-minimalism, do nothing - Don't explain - Don't modify behaviour - Make a performance: nothing."

In its most radical performance in 2006, Carroll left New York with "nothing" except her passport - and the clothes she was wearing - and travelled to Argentina, living there for six weeks. Nothing is also documented in her 2010 book, MEC, released by art publisher Steidl, in the index cards that constitute much of her artwork and a video performance of a text about Nothing written by curator Anthony Elms.

"There are differences," Joselit says. "I am not prepared to say Marina Abramovic is involved in plagiarising. I just think there should be a conversation."

Obrist says he, fellow Serpentine curator Julia Peyton-Jones and their team think the best idea is for the artists to have a conversation, which they have arranged. "Nothing" has long been a subject in art, he says, pointing to John Cage's 1952 silent music piece 4'33" and Yves Klein's blank walls in the 1950s.

Obrist says Abramovic's 512 Hours refers to a Joseph Beuys piece, which he did for the Documenta exhibition, lasting 100 days.

Abramovic's work is very different from Carroll's, Obrist adds. "First of all Marina has never used the idea of nothing as her title. Many things will happen in the space. This piece evolves out of previous work that Marina has done. It will be very physical and interactive and performative."

In an e-mail Abramovic writes: "There are no objects and no artworks on the wall but there will be props like tables beds chairs and platforms etc and the public will be her living material which she is going to interact with 8 hours a day."

Carroll was not immediately available for comment.

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