Shooting the Shit with Marina Abramovic

By Nadja Sayej

Marina Abramović, the 65-year-old grandmother of performance art, says you know you’re still relevant when young people show up at your art shows. Her private dinner parties are another matter altogether. I was somehow—and surprisingly—invited to her VIP private dinner party at a classy Viennese restaurant after her latest opening Thursday night, “With Eyes Closed I See Happiness, 2012” at Galerie Krinzinger in Vienna. Correction: I crashed the dinner party with three of my artist friends, and we were probably the youngest people there.

I only managed to snag a 12-minute interview with the art world superstar. But it was cool. She was hungry and people were wearing big glasses, snorting tobacco, and spilling red wine all over the white tablecloths. Abramović managed to keep her composure, even while star-struck fans were taking photos as she ate sugar powder-covered pancakes.

VICE: I put some crystals in my cleavage because I know you use crystals in your work.
Marina Abramović:
I’ve never put crystals in my cleavage, but OK. I have put crystals near my head and asked, “You know what time it is?”

A lot of artists today are struggling. Do you have any advice for us?
Yes, yes, yes. My audience is a young audience. I am so incredibly happy and grateful. You know who did me an enormous favor? Lady Gaga. She brought me a young audience. I still haven’t met her, but we did meet virtually. Lady Gaga came to see my show at MoMA in 2010, and because she tweeted about it, all these kids came to MoMA to see Lady Gaga. And even after Lady Gaga left, they stayed and saw my show. I have something like 80,000 fans on Facebook all under the age of 30. My favorite! I am so happy.

But my advice to young artists is to be less selfish. When you arrive at a certain age, you have to give unconditionally. I think young artists should be much less selfish than they are. First of all, you have to know that making art is not about being famous and having money. The art is about a different matter. Fame and money is just a side effect. This you have to get clear in your head.

The second thing you have to figure out is whether you’re an artist or not. People want to be artists for different reasons, but if you have to create then you might make a good artist. And it requires a whole different set of sacrifices. It’s a lonely life. You have to really dedicate yourself completely. You have to be inferior. You have to be in fever, diseased, like it’s the only thing that exists ever.

Then, if you’re a really good artist, you have to learn how to survive in society—not compromising to the market, not creating art pollution in your studio. And there are so many things you have to learn about the business. It’s amazing, my first show ever was in Italy, and it sold out. But I never got a penny. All artists experience the same shit. So you have to kind of stick together and give each other advice. There are very few artists who are actually generous. Robert Rauschenberg was one of them. He created a hospital for artists. He created a kind of bank account if you’re in trouble as a young artist.

We need that.
And artists in my generation need to be generous too. I’m creating an institute of performance art where I’m going to give teachings.

Do you think giving interviews or lectures is a kind of performance?
Performance is a word that is overused. I hate to think of an interview as a type of performance, or a lecture as a type of performance. Some people say it is a performance, but it’s bullshit. It is not. When I do a performance, I call it a performance. This is an interview not a performance.

How do you relate to fashion?
My generation hates the fashion world. In the 1970s, if you wore lipstick, then you weren’t a good artist. And I said, “I don’t care about this sanctimony anymore. I like what I like.” I like original fashion. To me, Comme des Garçons is just genius. So is Yōji Yamamoto. Lately, I like Riccardo Tisci. He just made this dress for me. I feel so comfortable. Look, it has a little trail. I feel like a nun on a mission.

Where did you get the cross around your neck?
This is the Austrian Decoration of Honor for Science and Art, the highest Austrian award for life achievement. It’s incredible to wear. I wear it like jewelry, but it’s actually real medal. It was given to me in a four-hour ceremony with the president of Austria in 2008. Usually they give it to people who are 70, 80, 90 or dead. I’m wearing it because Austria is the best place to wear it.

And you don’t consider yourself a feminist artist, right?
No, definitely not. I really hate ghettoizing art into specific ideologies. Art is only one way. There is good or bad art, and that’s it. Who is making it is not important.

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