When Art and Sex Stare Back at You

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The annual gala at MOCA Los Angeles is always a guilty pleasure. There is plenty of good liquor and food, plus celebrities galore to gawk at. And how about the performers invited to entertain the crowd: Russian dancers from the Bolshoi, Lady Gaga, and Brazilian legend, singer Caetano Veloso. But that was in the past two years.

The 2011 Gala, which took place last Saturday, promised to be particularly titillating, considering that the ringmaster of this indulgent one-night circus, held in a gigantic tent erected on Grand Avenue, was the one and only Marina Abramovic. An internationally famous artist, she is celebrated for confrontational performances where she and her collaborators -- totally naked -- would endure excruciatingly long hours of public exposure. Whether standing, sitting or lying down, they wouldn't be allowed to move during the prolonged performances, remaining motionless to the point sometimes of fainting.

at111115c.jpgAs far as we know, this time, no one fainted -- none of the dozens of performers hired by Abramovic and none of the seven hundred-plus guests. But confrontation it was. First, before entering the tent for dinner, guests were obliged to put on the white lab coats. I felt sorry for all the beautiful ladies whose elaborate outfits and jewels had to be concealed under such cover. Then, Marina Abramovic, looking very professorial in her white coat, instructed all of us to obey the rules and not to talk to -- and definitely not to touch -- any of the performers whose heads or naked bodies were displayed on our tables.

at111115a.jpgTo get the picture, imagine us sitting at the long narrow tables while staring at the specially trained men and women whose bodies were hidden under the tables with only their heads popping up through round cut holes. Their heads were slowly rotating and when their gaze met with your eyes, you had only two choices, both equally uncomfortable: either ignore their presence or stare back at them.

at111115b.jpgGuests sitting at the several large round tables had even more on their plates, so to speak. They tried their best not to stare at the naked women at the center of the tables on rotating Lazy Susans. These women were laying on their backs, legs slightly spread apart, large skeletons on top of them. And I noticed it was too much for some of the guests. I saw Pamela Anderson bolting up from one of these tables in the middle of dinner, not to return.

Some guests at the Gala were wondering, was it museum pressure that persuaded Marina Abramovic to censor herself and exclude from this event any male nudity, which has always been an essential part of her performances? Last year, in New York, during her high-profile retrospective at MoMA, her piece Nude with Skeleton consisted of two naked, motionless performers, male and female. But on this occasion, the museum and the artist were afraid, I guess, that it would be too much for MOCA patrons, each paying $2,500 per ticket.

at111115e.jpgNow, here's the latest about the Pacific Standard Time extravaganza, entering its second month. In today's issue of the L.A. Times, Jori Finkel brings up the fact that only a few of the dozens of Pacific Standard Time exhibitions are scheduled to travel. And I agree with her that it seems as if we are preaching to the choir.

at111115d.jpgWhy didn't the Getty, in all its largesse, set aside funds to allow the most ambitious of these exhibitions to travel across the country and, even further, to Europe? Yes, we are proud of the accomplishments and daring of our Los Angeles artists, but there could be and definitely should be more done to acquaint a much wider audience with the power and magic of what took place here in this City of Angels.

Banner image: Live nude woman and skeleton as table centerpiece, 2011 MOCA Gala, An Artist's Life Manifesto, directed By Marina Abramovic. Photo courtesy of MOCA