ONE WAY OR ANOTHER
On November 12, 2011, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), held its annual fundraising gala. MOCA invited Marina Abramović—the self-defined “grandmother of performance art”—to art-direct the event. Under Abramović’s direction, approximately 80 performers played various performative roles during the gala dinner, including a chorus who accompanied Abramović in the recitation of her “An Artist’s Life Manifesto.” Referencing one of her own works (“Nude with Skeleton” (2002, 2005, 2010)), Abramović intended to stage naked women and men on large turntables who would remain motionless under replicas of human skeletons as table centerpieces where gala attendees dined. MOCA Director, Jeffrey Deitch, explicitly forbade Abramović from using naked men—but had no problem with her using naked women. Abramović complied.
Although she announced Deitch’s ban to dinner guests, Abramović’s compliance with MOCA’s illogical, sexist rule served to underscore not only an imbalance in the way bodies are consumed for pleasure but also the power of who gets to make these decisions for others. MOCA’s ban precluded those who attended the dinner from thinking for themselves.
After much critical discussion arose online pertaining to the gala, artist and performance art curator Dino Dinco organized an open forum at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) focusing on performance and ethics, citing the MOCA gala as an example. Dinco moderated the panel with UC Riverside professor Jennifer Doyle and CalArts faculty member and artist, Matias Viegener. Deitch arrived close to the end of the three-hour panel discussion. He agreed to answer a few questions from those in attendance, including MOCA’s reasoning to allow nude female performers yet forbid nude male performers. Deitch boasted that he took “the flack” for this decision and offered as an explanation/excuse that many of the MOCA funders were “businessmen” and that MOCA had “subjected them to a lot already.”
This performance addressed MOCA’s actions. Dinco rented one of the exact turntables MOCA had used for the gala, rotating for hours while a grotesquely slowed down version of Blondie’s “One Way or Another” blared on repeat. The video imagery was taken from a MOCA promotional video documenting the gala, including the event’s musical guest, Blondie’s Deborah Harry.
The unannounced performance took place in a borrowed empty storefront on Fourth Street between Spring and Main Streets, Downtown Los Angeles during the monthly event Art Walk, whose visitors routinely include those that MOCA wanted to attract with their 2011 “Art In The Streets” graffiti exhibition.