Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gerhard Richter Painting, Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

Gerhard Richter Painting
Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

There is truth in advertising to the title of Corinna Belz’s documentary “Gerhard Richter Painting,” approximately two-thirds of which consists of uninterrupted, nearly silent tracking shots of the octogenarian painter in the studio, applying wide swaths of titanium white and lemon yellow... paint to rollers and to his trademark giant squeegee, with which he turns vivid, colorful paintings into harder, more abstract and scraped-off pieces. At least one critic has pooh-poohed these sequences as literally watching paint dry, but to me the rare sight of a master painter at work was the most interesting aspect of the film. Richter the man is much less so – despite some powerful emotional traumas in his past – and he doesn’t provide much useful insight into the artistic process or art in general.

The performance artist Marina Abramovic makes a far more compelling subject in Matthew Akers’ documentary “The Artist is Present,” which traces Abramovic’s 40-year evolution from an avant-garde curiosity piece to an established mainstream artist with a career retrospective at MoMA. Some of Marina’s earliest works, I confess, I don’t get and don’t particularly want to – works in which she slammed herself into walls, or carved a pentagram into her midriff, or drove in circles for 16 hours while shouting numbers from a megaphone. But some you have to respect: “The Lovers,” in which she and her then-boyfriend, fellow artist Ulay, walked the Great Wall of China from opposite directions for 3 months, met halfway, and then said goodbye and parted; and the titular exhibition, staged at MoMA in 2010, in which Abramovic sat silently and motionlessly in a chair for 7 ½ hours a day, opposite one museum guest at a time (each for several minutes), experiencing profound interpersonal bonds and not a little physical pain. Abramovic has much more than Richter to say about art and the artist. As one with a preconceived distaste for performance art, I was surprised how much I enjoyed “The Artist is Present.”

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