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On the Boards: OMA’s Marina Abramović Institute

May 8, 2012

The firm unveils its design for a performance art training camp in upstate New York.

By William Hanley

The firm unveils its design for a performance art training camp in Upstate New York.
Image courtesy OMA

Click the image above to view renderings and drawings for OMA’s Marina Abramović Institute. slide show

 

Marina Abramović goaded a man to insert his head into the base of an architectural model at an event to unveil the design for the artist’s new institute for performance art. After some hesitation, he obliged, and a group of photographers gathered to snap photos of the illuminated mock-up now capping his suddenly prone body.

View of the model for the project unveiled on Monday.
Image © Architectural Record
Abramović shows off a model for the project.

slide show

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The teaching moment was a fitting introduction to the Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art. Designed by Rem Koolhaas’s OMA, the plan for the facility combines elements of a museum and a theater with a laboratory and a boot camp. “It was very important for me to find a way to create a school for the public,” Abramović says.

The artist conceived the institute as a training ground for the variety of demanding, durational, and often grueling performance work that she has pioneered throughout her four-decade career. She acquired a former theater and onetime indoor tennis center in Hudson, New York (near her home and about two hours north of New York City) to house it, and hired OMA to convert the neglected building into a 20,000 square-foot, three-story series of spaces that resolutely confounds distinctions between performer and audience.

OMA’s plan replaces a former tennis court with what lead designer Shohei Shigematsu calls a “monastic box,” a versatile full-height space designed to accommodate performance art, as well as dance, film, music, opera, theater, and video. Enclosed on four sides, it receives natural light from a central oculus overhead. The firm wrapped the box in a three-level series of rooms dedicated to a permanent version of the artist’s work The Abramović Method, currently on view in Milan.

When they arrive at the institute, visitors will be asked to sign a contract with the artist in which they promise to remain at the institute for at least two and a half hours—performances in the main space will often last for more than six. They will then surrender their phones, iPods, and other electronics, don white lab coats, and undergo a training regimen that ranges from breathing exercises to standing under magnets for long periods of time. Those who complete the course will get a certificate. “In 40 years of my career, I realized that only long durational works of art have serious potential to change not only the viewer looking at it, but also the performer doing it,” says Abramović.

OMA organized facilities for each training segment—including “crystal” and “levitation” rooms—as well as a library and a cafe in a circuit around the main space, giving each sightlines to both the central performance and to each other. The design also calls for a mezzanine where a “second audience” of people not participating in the regimen can use binoculars to survey those who are.

The design allows visitors to participate in other activities while still keeping an eye on the central performances. OMA looked to existing typologies of durational spectating while developing the visual relationships between the spaces. “Baseball was an interesting case,” says Shigematsu. “It’s quite long and sometimes very boring—no offense—but it’s so long that you can actually watch the event while you’re doing something else.”

The plan leaves the exterior of the building mostly intact, but it opens windows in the former theater’s facades and moves the entry to one side of a street-facing colonnade, replacing it with a sidewalk-to-cornice glass wall that reveals the institute’s primary circulation. Behind it, ramps carry visitors through the sequence of training rooms. They can choose to walk or—depending on their state—be pushed by an attendant while reclining in one of the combination wheelchair and massage chairs designed to move sleeping trainees.

Abramović describes the project as her legacy, and it creates a permanent home for a method of preserving performance art that she introduced at her 2010 retrospective Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. For that show, the artist had performers recreate her work in the galleries. At the institute, Abramović hopes that training fresh groups of performers under her aegis will create a living archive of her work and ideas. “I gave it my name because I feel like I’ve become a brand, like Coca-Cola or jeans,” she says. “You say, 'Marina Abramović,' and you know it’s not about painting, it’s about performance art—and a kind of hardcore performance art.”

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