Speaking at the Serpentine Galleries as part of the Artist Talks series co-hosted by Fondation Beyeler and UBS, groundbreaking performance artist Marina Abramović put forward her vision for how 21st-century cultural institutions can offer relevance and meaning for the communities that they represent.
Abramović suggested that to do so they would need to evolve beyond the confines of a museological tradition which casts the visitor as "voyeur" within the static space of the gallery. "The concept of the museum is a 19th century concept still, you know, you come to look at the things. But what if you come and be part of something?"
The future that the Serbian artist envisages for the museum is one which takes its lead from performance, the art form she has espoused since the 1970s when it was seen as little more than an experimental undercurrent on the fringes of the art world. Since then its place within the pantheon of the modern gallery has been cemented, due in part to the success of major institutional shows such as her 2010 MoMA tour-de-force The Artist is Present. She explains that she saw this exhibition as an opportunity to truly be present in the museum in a way that would create a radical new dynamic: "I wanted to show to the larger public that performance has transformative force, that something can happen differently."
However Abramović is adamant that the symbiotic relationship between art and viewer embodied by The Artist is Present should not be confined to temporary exhibitions and fleeting projects. Instead she believes it can guide museums toward the role that they can and should take at the heart of society: "There is a need right now to give the tools to community, not just to look at something but to be absolutely part of something, that's essential. This is why there is such a need for participation."