By Emily Conklin, Staff Writer
“Marina Abramovic is not a performance artist,” says Sean Kelly, owner of the eponymous gallery in Chelsea, who opened their ninth show dedicated to the famous “body artist” last weekend, focusing on the foundations of her contemporary fame, simply called Early Works.
12 performance stills and 5 original films were meticulously restored by both gallerist and artist after discovering the photographic film rapidly deteriorating in an old backpack Abramovic carried during European travels in the early ‘70s. The selected stills are clear and crisp in black-and-white, except one, Rhythm 10, an image of Marina and her knives that still bears the slashes present on the unrestored film.
The photographs and moving images show a bold and passionate young artist riding on her early waves on energy and anger, navigating troubled Baltic politics and a tumultuous family life through her own being and interactions with those around her. Her works push the boundaries of the grotesque and the entertaining, toeing the line between the capabilities of the human body that divide life and death.
(While performing Rhythm 5, laying within a start of flame, all the oxygen was sucked by the fire and Marina lost consciousness, lying unaware of the increasingly encroaching flames until the audience interfered.)
Today, the name Marina Abramovic can conjure up thoughts of scandal and overbearing celebrity, Early Works and Sean Kelly remind us to reflect: icons are not born, they evolve: the beginnings of any artistic endeavor not only shape the career ahead, but continuously remain humbling and intimate despite the passing of time.