Art Basel Miami Beach 2014 Artists Market

‘The Earth Is Dying!’: Naptime with Marina Abramovic

Nap time with the Marina Abramovic Institute.

A quiet place.

At the opening of Art Basel Miami Beach, a few confused visitors were standing in front of the Beyeler Foundation’s booth, tucked into a corner, where several people were lying on cots, cuddled up with colorful blankets, wearing noise-canceling headphones, and having a nice rest. The mystery of this paradox–a nap at an art fair–was resolved when Marina Abramović, clad in all black, seemed to appear out of thin air, announcing, “Everybody can use it! You’re tired, you put your headphones on, it blocks the sound, and you sleep like a baby!”

At this point, a man sidled up to Abramović with an iPhone in hand and asked for a picture.

“You want selfie?” Abramović said, taking the man’s phone and snapping a picture of herself making a blowfish face.

The Marina Abramović Institute, the artist’s Upstate New York facility devoted to training others in her performance style, has been all over Miami this week in a PR blitz.

“I don’t think it’s great for artists to see how people sell art,” she told me, “but at the same time I’m not here in Miami as an artist, I’m here as a promoter and fundraiser.”

The Institute is staging performances at the YoungArts Jewel Box, where people will walk in slow motion, and another at the Design Miami fair called “Counting the Rice.” (“You go there and just count rice for an endless amount of time,” she said.)

Abramović recently started referring to her work as “the Abramović Method,” which she described to me as “the summary of 40 years of my experience in performance,” and a way of weening people off of technology–“to perceive something else and not be a visual junky.” Like in her recent show at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York, visitors to the nap booth must place their belongings–phone, computer, etc.–in a locker.

“Artists, we don’t pay attention to our needs,” Abramović said, “and our need is to have space to create something that people can experience. But this,” meaning the fair, “is madness. We’ve become commodity, and that takes away from the experience. When that Francis Bacon painting sold for $145 million–how could you see art without seeing money after that? We don’t. We don’t.”

When I asked her if she thought this could change, her tone became grave. “I think we’re getting tired of so much. But the thing is, how do we go back to simplicity? The Earth is dying! We fucked it up. And the human brain hasn’t changed in 3,000 years! But we have all this new technology and there’s so much of life that we can’t follow. So if we don’t go back to simplicity, we’re actually lost. We become godless. It’s very easy to complain about the world, but I’m not interested in complaining, I’m interested in finding solutions, and this is my own personal solution. My contribution.”

Then she had to go. Someone else wanted a selfie.

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