"You have no idea how emotionally excited I am." So said performance artist Magdalena Abramovicz on the occasion of her debut at the Museum of Contemporary Art in her native Belgrade.Serbia. She's right. It's hard to imagine her even smiling given her claim to fame made at the Museum of Modern Art in NY in 2010 - "The Artist Is Present" - where she sat for eight hours a day for nearly three months mute and inert facing some 1,000 exhibit goers, one at a time. What you saw was a staring contest without a hint of feelings on her face.

Art of the bleeding heart

The Belgrade show is a retro that takes in all her favorites displays of the past - photographs, videos, paintings, as well as repeats of past live performances. According to the Imperial Valey Press (IVP) report, this exhibit is seen as a "major cultural event. Abramovic hopes it will boost the Serbian art scene. But it's hard to see how with work like her "Rhythm 10," in which she rammed ten knives in between her spread fingers and drew blood when she missed. If bloodletting is her way to boost an art scene, she needs to go back to the drawing board.

Feeling invincible

In Abramovicz's autobiography, "Walking through Walls," she wrote of how liberating her performances were: "I had felt that my body was without boundaries, limitless, that pain didn't matter, that nothing mattered at all." One may well wonder how exulting in "nothing matters" can serve any art scene. Sounding a lot like an adrenaline junkie, she added, "No painting, no object that I could make ever give me the kind of feeling and it was a feeling I knew I would have to seek out again and again and again."

Jailing the self

Abramovitz wasn't always so empty.

I'm thinking of her exhibit example in the High Museum's celebration of the Olympics in 1996 - "Rings of Five Passion in the World of Art. Her display, a sculpture she called "Cage," stood out. What you saw was a bent-over figure sitting on the floor of a flimsy cage made of sticks. Clearly, the makeshift enclosure was easy to escape from, suggesting that the imprisoned figure was restrained by an unseen force. Abramovitz had scooped out the figure's insides as if to say that the isolation left it hollow.

The emptied-out image gave the impression of being so weightless that it seemed nearly intangible. In that way, "Cage" became the picture of alienation and loneliness.

Building an audience

When I visited this High Museum show, director Ned Rifkin told me he wanted people to come who never went to a museum and afterward feel moved enough to go to whatever art institution is available to them. He said if that happens, his show will have succeeded. Abramovicz's "Cage" had that power to turn a neophyte into an art lover.

I can't say the same for her performance art.

Don't miss our page on Facebook!
Click to read more