Art à porter and the rise of Marina Abramovic

Hettie Judah, from the October 2013 issue

By Hettie Judah

Marina Abramovic, Energy Clothes, 2013, silk taffeta parachute fabric in seven colours, seven magnets per piece. Courtesy Net-a-Porter

“When Charlotte and I heard that there was a woman in Chelsea not talking or eating, we were there in a New York minute,” coos Carrie Bradshaw over the opening credits of Sex and the City, season 6, episode 12 (2003). Charlotte and Carrie, teetering beneath the weight of their lipgloss and lacquer, join the po-faced arty throng watching a hollow-eyed woman 
in cotton pyjamas sitting in one of a series of wall-mounted rooms in a gallery. While she 
is not mentioned by name, that scene, with its meticulous facsimile of The House with the Ocean View (2002), marked Marina Abramovic’s first major incursion into pop culture.

This last year, the Abramovic incursion
 has reached some kind of critical mass –
she’s modelled for Givenchy, mentored Gaga, eyeballed Jay Z, made a movie with James Franco, filmed Norwegians screaming, hustled for the Marina Abramovic Institute on Kickstarter and designed a fashion collection. In December, the Park Avenue Armory in New York will host the Antony Hegarty-penned opera The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic (2011), directed by Robert Wilson and starring Abramovic alongside Willem Dafoe. It can only be a matter of time before American Vogue launches a Marina-plan diet (honey, red wine and bouts of ritual self-flagellation, perhaps?).

Marina Abramovic doesn’t twerk

Some logic is present. There’s audience crossover with Lady Gaga; Abramovic excels at conveying aestheticised trauma, appealing to the angsty misfits that constitute the devout core of Mother Monster’s followers. MS A is
 also a self-pronounced expert in processes of purification, fasting and the slowing down of time – all, as Sex and the City so gauchely hinted, points of near-obsession for people working in the fashion industry. And for a performer like Franco, the power to make people queue around the block then sit down in front of her and weep must be intoxicating.

But pop’s idea of Abramovic and Abramovic actual are two quite different propositions, as Jay Z discovered when filming his ‘homage’: the six-hour-long performance of his single Picasso Baby at Pace New York. Abramovic swept into the venue from a black limousine and proceeded to scare the bejaysus out of the most powerful rap artist on the planet. 

During his performance, Jay Z was unfazed by photobombers, flirts, toddlers and the unholy spectacle of New York gallerists attempting to breakdance, but when Abramovic engaged with him, microexpressions flitted across his face ranging from basic alarm through general discomfort to frank panic. 

Is it only a matter of time before Vogue launches a Marina-plan diet (honey, red wine and bouts of self-flagellation)?

She may have accepted pop’s hug, but she does not conform to the consumerist ADHD of pop culture. In person she is a still core that commands attention, she does not entertain; she exudes control and a certain indifference to audience response. Marina Abramovic doesn’t twerk.

By what one imagines to be absolutely no coincidence at all, three of the artists present for the Picasso Baby filming have recently designed garments for Net-a-Porter. Unveiled during couture week in Paris, the Art Capsul garments will be made to order and priced according to the current market value of the artists’ work. Abramovic offers day-of-the-week silk jumpsuits with spiritually improving magnetic inserts, George Condo a saucy frock with a print on the bum, Terence Koh a pearl-encrusted bomber jacket, Vik Muniz an evening gown with a cut-about tropical print and Mickalene Thomas a crystal-crusted cocktail dress.

Rich people buy art 
and rich people buy couture

Net-a-Porter has exceptional form 
in identifying new top-end markets; fashion director Holli Rogers, who initiated Art Capsul, describes it as “on DNA as a brand” and there 
is certainly intimation that this could be 
the first step along a new path for the retailer. Art says clever, sophisticated, meaningful –
it also says big money. 

Rich people buy art 
and rich people buy couture, which makes Art Capsul quite the twofer. Let’s hope some of that delicious money went to the artists. Abramovic still has to raise another $20 million to build her OMA-designed institute in New York so she’s all about the Benjamins right now. One imagines her pop-culture intrusion-proper has only just begun.

This article was first published in the October 2013 issue.