Performance artist Marina Abramovic attacked with a portrait of herself

Picture-wielding assailant at Florence retrospective claims he did it for his art

Florence attack: Marina Abramovic at the Palazzo Strozzi’s exhibition of her work. Photograph: Laura Lezza/Getty

Florence attack: Marina Abramovic at the Palazzo Strozzi’s exhibition of her work. Photograph: Laura Lezza/Getty

 

Marina Abramovic is no stranger to controversial performances, but the artist found herself involved in an unscripted spectacle on Sunday when an aspiring artist hit her with a painting.

The 71-year-old, whose sometimes confrontational art involves viewers or physically hurts the performer, was leaving a book signing at the Palazzo Strozzi, in Florence, which is hosting Italy’s first major retrospective of her art, when a man slammed a paper portrait he had made of Abramovic over her head. The sudden act drew horrified gasps from several people in the crowd that had been following Abramovic through the palazzo.

“She was attacked,” one woman is heard saying in a video of the incident published by the Rome daily La Repubblica.

The Serbian-born artist, whose New York retrospective in 2010 involved her sitting in a chair at the Museum of Modern Art and staring at strangers who sat opposite her for 736 hours, said in a statement issued by the museum that she had been stunned by the aggression but was unhurt.

She said a man approached her holding a “rather distorted” portrait of her. “He came forward, staring me straight in the eyes, and I smiled, thinking that it was a present for me,” Abramovic said. “In a fraction of a second I saw his expression change and become violent. You know, danger always comes very quickly, like death.” That is when he smashed the portrait – with a frame, but no glass – over her head. “Boom,” he appears to be saying in the video.

Over the past 45 years Abramovic’s performances have involved lying on blocks of ice; surrounding herself with burning wooden rails until the heat made her lose consciousness; carving a star in her stomach with a razor blade; and inviting a gallery audience to choose any of several objects (among them needles and a gun) to “use on me as desired”.

Nudity and vandalism accusations

Reports in the Italian media, which were confirmed by a spokeswoman from the museum, claimed the Florence attacker was Vaclav Pisvejc, a Czech-born aspiring artist who has been involved in past incidents featuring nudity and the occasional denunciation. This year he was accused of vandalising with spray paint a statue by the Swiss artist Urs Fischer in the central Piazza della Signoria.

After Sunday’s attack the suspect was immediately wrestled to the ground by museum guards. In the video the man is seen huddling, hunched over, next to the broken portrait. “Who is it?” a woman asks. “It’s someone who tries to make trouble at all the exhibits,” a man responds.

Abramovic said in her statement that once she recovered from her shock she asked to meet her aggressor. “I wanted to know why he did this, why this hatred against me,” she said. She said that he responded: “I had to do it for my art.” “You don’t make art through violence against others,” she said she replied. “I was also a young, not famous artist, but I never hurt anyone. In the past I would have been angered by something like this; today I feel compassion,” she added.

Abramovic has not pressed charges. Arturo Galansino, director of the Palazzo Strozzi foundation, said in a statement that he deeply regretted the episode. – New York Times

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