Marina Abramović interviewed in the Evening Standard's ES Magazine
26 October 2023
The world’s foremost performance artist is no stranger to an enraptured audience, but after cheating death it’s taking on new meaning for Marina Abramović, whose UK opera premiere raises the bar in a long, salient career. Richard Godwin meets her backstage
Shortly after her career-spanning exhibition opened at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly last month, Marina Abramović received an anonymous letter from a gallery-goer. The Serbian performance artist has had many terrible reviews since she emerged from Yugoslavia in the late 1960s, naked, bleeding, defiant. Back then, as she puts it, ‘Everyone thought what I was doing was trash’, or else demanded to know how, for example, carving a pentagram into her abdomen while surrounded by flames was supposed to be ‘art’.
She has become something of a connoisseur of bad reviews. The Royal Academy letter, however, was a particular treasure and immediately endeared her to the London public. ‘It’s amazing — it’s priceless!’ she says with heavy Slavic inflection, her voice crackling with dark mischief. ‘Can you read it with your beautiful British accent?’ She hands me her phone and I obey: ‘Dear Sir/Madam, I feel that this new exhibition is reaching a new low and cannot for the life of me understand why the Academy considers its content art. Even Tracey Emin never stooped as low as this. We are being swamped by all forms of media, even terrestrial TV, with what can only be called soft porn at best. Are you happy to contribute to the degradation of the nation?’
‘The degradation of the nation!’ Abramović purrs with delight. ‘I mean, wow, T-shirt, immediately! Nobody about my work is indifferent. Or they hate it, or they love it. And this is story of my life.’ These days Abramović is mostly loved — and is clearly loving it herself. At 76 she is among the world’s most famous living artists and perhaps the single most important figure in performance art, a once-maligned form that she has brought to the art world’s most august institutions (outrageously, she is only the first female artist to receive an RA retrospective)...
We are talking in a little side room at the London Coliseum, home of English National Opera, where Abramović will further contribute to the degradation of the nation with her opera, 7 Deaths of Maria Callas, which receives its UK premiere next month. Indeed, there is barely a London institution that Abramović isn’t degrading.
Read in full via ES Magazine.
'7 Deaths of Maria Callas' begins its run at the London Coliseum on 4 November.
Photography by Camille Vivier for ES Magazine.