Does Marina Abramovic Need A Kickstart?

To fund her next performance–an OMA-designed institute–the artist is the latest monied creative to go online asking for money. Who pays?

Is this performance art? you may have asked yourself when Maria Abramovic launched a Kickstarter campaign last week to fund her new art center. Surely that’s how it’ll be written off–if the project fails to reach its $600,000 goal. (It’s tracking at around $230K at the moment.)


The Marina Abramovic Institute (MAI), in Hudson, New York, is being envisioned by the artist as largely a creative incubator and venue for the teaching of “the Abramovic Method,” which combines aspects of art, science, technology, and spirituality, all in a serene, stark-white museum space.

The MAI was launched last year, and designed by noneother than OMA, under the direction of partners Shohei Shigematsu and Rem Koolhaas. The architects are poised to explore programming for the center and produce mock-ups–depending on Kickstarter results. The funding Abramovic is after is to cover this “first phase” work on the project.

OMA’s early drawings seem more closely related to the firm’s forays into display and shop design than that of their large-scale cultural institutions. The scheme, with a no-holds-barred minimalism that’s somewhat reminiscent of the “white void” prison chamber in THX-1138, essentially guts an old civic building in the Hudson River town. A library, classrooms, and performance halls will be opened at specific junctions, forming windows onto the art process.

As Abramovic explains in the Kickstarter video, the MAI will transform visitors into “active participant[s]” in various “long durational works,” meaning performances lasting more than six hours.

Abramovic clearly believes in the MAI as the house for future art. No groundbreaking news there. What’s surprising though, is that MAI founders find it either appropriate, interesting, or strategic (or all of the above) to launch a crowdsourcing effort for a slice of the center when its entire budget is currently pushing $20 million–and for an artist who’s hardly starved for resources. The Kickstarter goal, then, is almost a negligible sum, especially when Abramovic is coming from a place where the funds could have surely been subsidized by state or private donations.

To hear her tell it, the Kickstarter effort logically follows from “The Artist is Present,” Abramovic’s months-long residence/installation at the MoMA in 2010. She came away from that piece–in which visitors engaged in a “mutual gaze” with her–changed. It was, she says in the video, “the first time that I understood the enormous need of the public to be part of the total experience.” The need was so “profound” and urgent that it compelled her to seek all avenues for realizing what she calls “[a] new institute to humanity.”


Is this the approach humanity wants, though? For one thing, there’s the precedent she sets, with public arts funding being what and why it is. Imagine future private institutes, museums, and collections launching their own Kickstarter schemes asking for the public’s support (in addition to admission fees, of course). Public cultural institutions would no doubt soon follow.

Second, is Kickstarter the place for the monied to ask for money? Abramovic’s campaign comes just after several successful Hollywood filmmakers launched online fundraising projects. Those, including Zach Braff’s $3.7 million campaign and Spike Lee’s ongoing effort to partially fund his “Newest Hottest Joint,” left the web, James Franco, and of course, the Times pondering the ethics of celebrities using their social capital and Kickstarter. Wasn’t this supposed to be a platform for those without the cash or influence to get their private projects launched?

After coming under fire for his Kickstarter appeal, Braff pledged that the film in question would be made with the raised funds, plus that of his own–thereby establishing his personal investment in the project. Abramovic follows suit, saying that she has so-far contributed $1.5 million “out of pocket” toward readying the MAI grounds. She has done her part, it seems, for an institution that promises to benefit humanity.

Now it’s up to you. At least the prizes are cool. Pledge $10,000+, and the artist promises to pretend you don’t exist.

All photos courtesy of OMA.


About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.