The Artist is Present

Marina Abramović, The Artist is Present, 2010 Performance 3 months. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY 2010 © Marina Abramović / Bildupphovsrätt 2016

Biography of Marina Abramović


Marina Abramović is born on November 30 in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, to an affluent family with politically active parents. Vojin and Danica Abramović, who were Yugoslav partisans during World War II, continue their engagement in General Tito’s communist party. For their contributions during the war they are awarded high positions in the public sector; her father works with state security and her mother becomes head of the Museum of Art and the Revolution in Belgrade. While her parents make their political careers, Marina spends her first years living with her maternal grandmother. Milica Rosic is a devotee of the Orthodox Church, and her early childhood is deeply influenced by her grandmother’s faith.


At the age of six, Marina Abramović moves in with her parents when her brother Velimir is born. Raising the children is primarily Danica’s responsibility; the father is largely absent. Life in her parental home under her mother’s strict supervision is experienced as difficult and cold. Marina is made to uphold her mother’s compulsive relationship to cleanliness and order.


The Abramović family does not celebrate holidays or festivals together and rarely expresses their emotions. The proximity to art and culture, however, is clear. From an early age Marina is encouraged to express herself creatively through drawing and painting and at twelve is given her own studio at home.


Marina develops her drawing and painting, often through classically figurative floral still-lifes and portraits.


The young artist studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade. During this period, her earlier figurative expressions become increasingly abstract. Abramović starts painting clouds, and the motif recurs in ever-changing forms in several of her works from her school years.


During further studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, Abramović begins to use her body as a tool in her art, and eventually stops painting and drawing altogether. Marina spends most of her time at the SKC (Studenski Kulturni Centar), a cultural center in Belgrade founded by Tito. There she gets to know young conceptual artists such as Raša Todosijević, Zoran Popović and Neša Paripović. She starts experimenting with sound and performance.


Marina Abramović marries the conceptual artist Neša Paripović. She continues living with her parents and their strict ten PM curfew.


Abramović meets the artist Joseph Beuys in Edinburgh and later that year at the Cultural Center of Belgrade. Beuys’s happenings make a strong impression on Marina and greatly influence her continued work. She collaborates with the boundary-breaking artist Hermann Nitsch. The same year, she enacts the performance piece Rhythm 10 at the Villa Borghese, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Rome. The piece is the first of five performances in The Rhythm Series, in which she explores the limits of the body and consciousness.

Rhythm 5
Marina Abramović, Rhythm 5, 1974 Performance 90 minutes. Student Cultural Center, Belgrade 1974
© Marina Abramović / Bildupphovsrätt 2016


At SKC Marina Abramović performs the work Rhythm 5. The same year, Rhythm 4 is presented at Galleria Diagramma in Milan, as well as the last work in the series, Rhythm 0, at the gallery Studio Morra in Naples.


Travels to Amsterdam to participate in an international gathering for performance artists and meets the German artist Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen, b. 1943).

With the intention of contending with her identity and past, Marina returns to Belgrade for a series of performances pieces—Freeing the Voice, Freeing the Memory, and Freeing the Body.


Twenty-nine-year-old Abramović divorces Paripović. Throughout the marriage, she’s lived with her mother; after the divorce, she flees her repressive family home and moves in with Ulay in Amsterdam.

Ulay/Marina Abramović, Relation in Space, 1976 Performance 58 minutes XXXVIII Biennale, Giudecca, Venice, July, 1976. Photo: Jaap de Graaf. Courtesy of the Marina Abramović Archives © Ulay / Marina Abramović / Bildupphovsrätt 2016


Abramović and Ulay create a number of works under the shared title Relation Works. They write the manifesto Art Vital, which sets the course for their artistic practice. They decide to be in a perpetual state of transit, and for the next three years they live and work in a van while traveling through Europe.

Several pieces from the Relation Works series are shown at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, SKC in Belgrade, Documenta in Kassel, and the Musée d’art et d’histoire in Geneva.

The performance piece Imponderabilia is presented by Abramović and Ulay at Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna in Bologna.


The couple get an apartment in Amsterdam and come to play a central role in the artistic life of the city. They keep their van and travel to Australia and its Great Victoria Desert, where they live with the Pintubi tribe for nine months. Influenced by aboriginal culture, they create the performance piece Nightsea Crossing. It is shown for the first time at The Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.


Nightsea Crossing is performed at museums and exhibition halls in cities such as Kassel at Documenta 7, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Berlin, Amsterdam, Chicago, and Toronto.

In order to practice the meditation technique vipassana, Abramović and Ulay travel to Bodhgaya, India, where they meet the Dalai Lama and his oldest mentor, the tulku Kyabje Ling Rinpoche. They travel on to Rajasthan and the Thar Desert in Northwest India.


Abramović and Ulay invite the Tibetan lama Ngawang Soepa Lucyar and the aborigine Charlie Taruru Tjungurrayi, their travel companion in the Great Victoria Desert, to perform a new version of Nightsea Crossing together. For four days, the performance piece Nightsea Crossing Conjunction is hosted at the Fodor Museum in the Netherlands.


Marina Abramović travels to Dharamsala in India. Inspired by the mindfulness in vipassana meditation, she and Ulay enact their first play, Modus Vivendi, in Bern, Arnheim, and later in Baltimore. Since 1980, they have worked with video and photography parallel to their performative practice. Modus Vivendi also becomes the title of a series of large-scale Polaroid photographs.


The artistic couple takes their first trip to China. Ever since the trip to the Australian desert in 1980, they had been working on an idea about a performance-walk along the Great Wall of China. They apply for support from the Chinese authorities, but are turned down. Nightsea Crossing ends after six years with a performance at the Musée Saint Pierre d’art Contemporain in Lyon.


Even though they have almost entirely broken off their personal relationship, Abramović and Ulay continue working together. They travel to China for the second time and apply again for permission to conduct their walk.


After years of preparation, the walk along the Great Wall of China begins for the work The Lovers. Abramović walks from the Shanhai Pass at the wall’s east end. From the wall’s western end near the Gobi Desert, Ulay walks in the opposite direction. After ninety days, they meet. The reunion marks a definitive end to their romantic relationship, as well as a twelve-year-long artistic collaboration. Abramović and Ulay part ways and start to work on their own.


The Lovers is exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst in Antwerp.

Abramović’s new solo works are a series of interactive objects, known as Transitory Objects, influenced by geology as well as Chinese and Tibetan medicine. Among other places, the works are shown in Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art, Städtische Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf, and Montreal’s Museum of Modern Art.


Marina Abramović moves to Paris, but keeps her apartment in Amsterdam. Through her early interests in Eastern philosophy, she’s invited to participate in the notable exhibition Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Soon after the group exhibition, The Lovers opens at the same museum.


The artist becomes a guest professor at the Hochschule der Kunst in Berlin and at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She travels to Brazil a number of times to continue her work on Transitory Objects.


In Hamburg, Abramović becomes a professor at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste. She is awarded a stipend that includes an apartment and a studio in Berlin, as well as an exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie.

Abramović returns to the theater. The autobiographical play Biography, directed by Charles Atlas, premieres in Madrid and is also shown at Documenta 9 in Kassel.


Biography is staged at theaters in Paris, Athens, Amsterdam and Antwerp.

Abramović and Charles Atlas travel to Belgrade to work on the forthcoming play Delusional, which is also based on Marina’s life.


A retrospective exhibition at Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art.

The performance piece Cleaning the House is staged at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York.


Marina Abramović turns fifty. In conjunction with her birthday celebrations, a vernissage for the retrospective Marina Abramović: Objects, Performance, Video, Sound is held at the Stedelijk Museum voor Aktuele Kunst in Ghent.

Balkan Baroque
Marina Abramović, Balkan Baroque , 1997 Performance 4 days, 6 hours, XLVII Biennale Venice June, 1997 © Marina Abramović / Bildupphovsrätt 2016


Abramović is invited to represent Serbia and Montenegro at the Yugoslavian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, but breaks off the collaboration after a conflict with the Montenegrin minister of culture. The performance piece Balkan Baroque is shown instead at the Italian pavilion, where it causes a stir. Abramović is awarded the Golden Lion prize for Best Artist of the Biennale. The same year, she meets the artist Paolo Canevari, and they begin a romantic relationship.


Marina Abramović becomes a professor at Hochschule für Bildende Kunste in Braunschweig, Germany. Ahead of forthcoming performative projects, she develops the workshop Cleaning the House, a series of exercises in concentration and presence of mind and a purification of the body and mind.


In Mundgod, India, Abramović choreographs a performance together with Tibetan monks for the Festival of Sacred Music. She meets the Dalai Lama, the festival’s initiator, a number of times.


Vojin Abramović dies of cancer. The next year the video piece Hero, dedicated to her father, is produced.

The interactive project Dream House opens in conjunction with Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial in Japan. The dream house is decorated with colors and furniture in precious materials that are meant to stimulate dreams. The work is installed permanently.


Abramović and Canevari move to New York. There The House with the Ocean View is also presented at the Sean Kelly Gallery. In front of visitors, Abramović spends twelve days strictly fasting and performing seemingly simple every day tasks.


The Art Institute of Chicago gives Abramović an honorary doctorate. She travels to Belgrade to develop the video project Balkan Erotic Epic and also participates in the 2004 biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.


Seven Easy Pieces is presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The work consists of seven re-stagings of performances by Valie EXPORT, Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, Gina Pane, Josef Beuys, and Marina Abramović herself. The project is a result of Abramović’s work with re-performance—a way of holding in trust one’s own as well as other artists’ performance pieces.

Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful opens at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid.


Abramović and Canevari marry in New York. Beyond the metropolis, Marina buys an estate in Hudson that becomes her private residence and a meeting place for performance art.


The mother Danica Abramović dies in Belgrade.

The Artist is Present
Marina Abramović, The Artist is Present, 2010 Performance 3 months. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY 2010 © Marina Abramović / Bildupphovsrätt 2016


New York’s MoMA presents the extensive retrospective The Artist is Present with many re-performances of Abramović’s works. The artist herself performs the new and demanding piece The Artist is Present for the duration of the exhibition and receives a huge public response. The exhibition is the largest presentation of performance in the history of the museum.

Abramović founds Marina Abramović Institute (MAI), which is to work across the sciences in order to draft a theoretical and practical platform for performance art.


The Artist is Present is shown at the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow.

The biographical play The Life and Death of Marina Abramović premieres at the Manchester International Festival.


The documentary Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present premieres at the Sundance Film Festival.

The exhibition Marina Abramović, Balkan Stories is shown at Kunsthalle Wien.


The exhibition 512 Hours is presented at London’s Serpentine Gallery. The project is a series of interactive exercises that have their starting points in the artist’s own work process, in which the audience participates.


The two extensive, separate exhibitions Terra Comunal/Communal Land and Private Archaeology open at SESC Pompeia in São Paulo and the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, respectively.


The Cleaner is shown at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The exhibitions travels to the Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst in Humlebæk, Denmark, and to the Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, Germany.

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