Abramovic dancer refuses to lie naked among donors for $150 and a legal threat

Abramovic dancer refuses to lie naked among donors for $150 and a legal threat


norman lebrecht

November 25, 2011

Marina Abramovi? has been getting a lot of press in the US of late. The Serb-born performance artist makes extreme demands of herself and her dancers, mostly unclothed. The Los Angeles Times calls her ‘the most successful or recognizable performance artist working today. The New York Times in its smarmy, have-it-both-ways style, characterises her as follows:

Hardly anything Ms. Abramovic says offhand is publishable in this newspaper, any more than are photographs from the performances she has presented over the decades, during which, often naked, she has cut or burned or whipped herself, or put herself in situations the plausible outcomes of which included death.

Despite these constraints, the decadent choreographer does not want for willing performers, who are obliged to sign both a contract and a vow of silence, backed up by threats of a million-dollar lawsuit.

Which makes the following confession all the more remarkable. A dancer, Sara Wookey, keen to work with Abramovi? was offered a role ‘of one of six nude females to re-enact Abramovi?’s signature work, Nude with Skeleton (2002), at the center of tables with seats priced at up to $100,000 each.’



On reflection Sara decided that ‘what I experienced as an auditionee for this work was extremely problematic, exploitative, and potentially abusive.’

So she pulled out and wrote an Open Letter to Artists here. Read it. It is one of the strongest and most coherent I have ever encountered from a performing artist, well on its way to becoming a classic of the blog genre.

Sara Wookey performing “Trio A” at VIVA! Performance Festival in Montreal. Photo credit: Guy L’Heureux


  • Thank you Norman! It is for stories like these that I particularly treasure your blog. Oh, and for nice off-hand comments like “the New York Times in its smarmy, have-it-both-ways style…” You forgot fatuous. This is an amazing account and I’m grateful for having read it. So much about the story is unbelievably revolting, starting with the $100,000 seats and the $150 fee to the performers.

    As a young performing musician I was a specialist in contemporary music and premiered many significant works in Canada. But by a couple of decades later I was starting to question the musical value of many avant-garde compositions and I have since become an apostate of a number of artists in that particular style. The work of Marina Abramović seems to me to be all of a piece with the work of Damien Hirst, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage: sensationalist, narcissistic and ultimately worthless. Strong words, I know, but honestly, how else to describe Nude with Skeleton or Hirst’s pickled shark or Stockhausen’s Helicopter-Quartet or Cage’s 4’33?

    I was talking about this in this post: http://themusicsalon.blogspot.com/2011/11/almost-music.html