The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), celebrated its 32year history as one of the world’s leading contemporary art institutions on Saturday, November 12, 2011, with An Artist’s Life Manifesto, a special gala envisioned by renowned performance artist Marina Abramović who served as this year’s gala artistic director.

No Idol (projection) at MOCA Gala 2011

The gala, attended by more than 750 guests, raised $2.5 million for the museum, and began at MOCA Grand Avenue with red carpet arrivals of Hollywood celebrities including Pamela Anderson, Ellen Barkin, Minnie Driver, Kirsten Dunst, Lisa Edelstein, Will Ferrell, Miranda July, Jaime King, Jonny Lee Miller, Rose McGowan, Nicole Richie, Gwen Stefani, Tilda Swinton, and Dita Von Teese; California Governor Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor and MOCA Ex Officio Trustee Antonio Villaraigosa; art world luminaries from Los Angeles, New York and beyond; fashion icons; and renowned Los Angeles artists including Doug Aitken, John Baldessari, Mark Bradford, Shepard Fairey, and Ed Ruscha.

An Artist’s Life Manifesto, hosted by Gala Chairs Maria Arena Bell and Eli Broad, Honorary Gala Chairs Larry Gagosian and Dasha Zhukova, who was also in attendance, together with MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch, began with cocktails in the MOCA galleries… Guests were offered what Abramović called Post-Human Cocktails, provided by Purity Vodka. After previewing the exhibitions, guests proceeded to the gala tent, where they were fitted with crisp, white lab coats before entering the main event.

“Marina Abramović choreographed an extraordinary art performance in which all of our guests were participants,” commented MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch “It fused an art experience with a social experience.”

Table Centre Piece MOCA Gala 2011 An Artist’s Life Manifesto continued in the main tent, decorated in black box fashion with mirrors and dark walls, a concept and design realized by Carleen Cappelletti, president of Bounce-AEG, who also produced the event. Inside the tent, everyone wore lab coats over their evening attire—a detail of Abramović’s setting for artistic experimentation. Performers were stationed under black-cloaked dinner tables as live centerpieces, their heads popping out from holes cut into the tables and slowly rotating around. The centerpieces engaged in non-verbal exchanges with guests who chose to interact with them, meeting the gazes of the diners as they ate and drank. Other guests sat down to a reenactment of Abramović’s Nude with Skeleton (2002, 2005, 2010) work in which female performers were situated under skeletons on rotating platforms at the center of round dinner tables.

Skeleton Display MOCA Gala 2011
Maria Arena Bell and Eli Broad welcomed the crowd, followed by remarks by Deitch and then Abramović, who thanked guests for their participation in the experiment, pointed out the cards at everyone’s place setting that instructed guests to “look, but do not touch,” and invited guests to silently communicate with the performers: “The centerpiece will observe you. You may observe the centerpiece…please respect the rules.” As she left the stage, two sets of shirtless male performers acted as pallbearers, carrying two shrouded bodies across and off the stage, a foreshadowing of what was to come. Suddenly, singer Svetlana Spajic entered and began performing selections from Robert Wilson’s The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, capturing the attention of guests. After Spajic left the stage, Abramović appeared and began reciting portions from her Artist’s Manifesto. As she recited lines, responses came booming from performers lining the tent’s periphery, who then began to filter onto the stage, single file, and engage in a spirited call and response with Abramović.

MOCA Gala Menu / Programme 2011After the Artist’s Manifesto, guests continued to engage with the performers as they dined on their first course of what Abramović called The Survival MOCA Dinner, consisting of three plated courses prepared by Along Came Mary: Super Human Cocktails provided by Purity Vodka and Rauschenberg Spirit Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon from Summerfield Wines accompanied the first course, the John Cage Symphony, a tower of frisée, endive, quinoa, tomato concasse and dates, with roasted shallot vinaigrette and topped with crispy onions, along with various amuse bouches and assortment of breads. The main course, the De Kooning Power Mix, was a roasted filet of beef, sautéed kale and mushrooms, baked root vegetables, roasted artichokes with a rouille, demi glace sauce. A vegetarian and fresh fish dish were also available.

MOCA Gala 2011 Marina Abramovic and Debbie HarryWhile guests dined, the pallbearers returned to the stage carrying a cloaked Deborah Harry, who emerged in white lab coat, which she promptly stripped off to reveal a tight blood-red cocktail dress. Harry treated guests to a rousing performance of “China Shoes,” “Heart of Glass,” “One Way or Another,” “What I Heard,” and “Mother,” bringing the crowd to its feet. Guests danced around the stage, relishing an intimate, once-in-a-lifetime experience with the pop icon and legend.

The evening concluded with a surprise finale, dessert prepared by Kreëmart, the Manhattan-based creative entity founded by Raphael Castoriano, which pairs artists with pastry chefs to give the former the opportunity to create via the ephemeral, unique medium of dessert. Guests watched as the pallbearers reappeared carrying “bodies,” which were unveiled by Harry and Abramović to reveal naked figures of themselves, decorated with white chocolate fondant. MOCA Gala Abramovic Likeness (cake) 2011Wielding carving knives, Harry and Abramović, then sliced open their likenesses to reveal red velvet (Harry) and rich chocolate (Abramović) cake inside.

Two performers then took over, cutting apart their edible body parts to serve gala guests, who enjoyed the Kreëmart creation along with illy coffee, and Andy Warhol Addictions—pear tarte tatin, brown-sugar- cane wafers, chocolate-espresso molten cakes, pecan bites, and roasted red grapes.

As guests fanned out into downtown L.A. and beyond, lab coats still on or in hand, it was clear that all in attendance had experienced a new kind of gala, which transformed them from spectators into participants in an interactive performance art piece.
Likeness Cakes at MOCA Gala 2011

Also See:

Hungry For Love” by Ana Cecilia Alvarez at The New Inquiry (March 31, 2014).

MOCA’s Bizarre Gala” by Isabel Wilkinson, in the Art Beast section, at The Daily Beast (Nov 13, 2011).

Read Yvonne Rainer’s Final Letter Decrying Marina Abramovic’s MOCA Performance“, In The Air section of Blouin ArtInfo (Nov 14, 2011).

Let Them Eat Cake” by Linda Yablonsky at ArtForum (Nov 16, 2011).

Career Provocateur“, by Guy Trembay at The New York Times (Nov 18, 2011).


One thought on “Abramović’s Cruelty

  1. Pingback: Reblog : Performance versus Performance. | scrapaduq

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