Marina Abramovic's just-closed exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art was the first exhibition of performance art to have an impact on the cultural world at large, moving out from New York and beyond. It is as distinctive and as potentially influential as the debut of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring or the opening night of Waiting for Godot.
The caveats, envies, cries of inauthenticity and charges of kitschiness are but small pebbles in her giant shoes. Not for nothing did MoMA arrogantly hang a giant portrait banner of a haughty Marina at the entrance to her show. The museum knew the importance of what it had and projected it accordingly. Long after the exhibition ended, the multiple legacies of Abramovic's domination will endure. The exhibition was a watershed of feminism, in which Marina said to the women sitting across from her in The Artist Is Present, "I'll Be Your Mirror."
Deep wells of personalization emanate from the long line of female faces shown in MoMA's brilliant series of photos on Flickr, both in the adornment which women donned before locking eyes with the artist and the subsequent tears and expressions of despair captured forever in real time. The exercise proved that the measure of success in performance art is complete transference, and, in this success, Marina emerged as the first and the best.
Although fiercely criticized for spurious reasons, the recreation of Marina's classic performance motifs transcended these cavils which were based on a contradiction: that the works were inauthentic without her, but, that with her, they were too infused with her alleged egomaniacal quest for "stardom." Plumbing deeper, one sees that the Circus Abramovic was an expression of deep humanism, curling the pulsating, breathing body around the skeleton of digital and technological alienation.
Thus, Marina doubly emphasized that the flesh, however transitory and imperfect, retains the nobility of being all we have and all we are. As such, she put the lie to the cheap death fixation of a Damien Hirst and the tawdry sex fixation of Tracey Emin, by asserting a dichotomy of sensuality/anti-sensuality.
Finally, the most enduring thread in Marina's show is psychoanalytic, the counterintuitive notion that the path to mental health lies in pain and the discipline to endure it. In the kaleidoscope of oil spells, bomb scares, crushing debt and hooking up, the one fixed point, Marina reminds us, is you (and me). Where you and me are where art as performance rises in perspirating heat and drying tears. This was a show whose resonance will murmur down the ages.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).