Serbian artist Marina Abramovic has been called the grandmother of performance art. Her works have often involved pain and endurance. In Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful, her iconic 1975 performance-for-video, she aggressively combs and brushes her long hair, teasing it up, while repeating 'art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful'. Her voice and expression betray her pain. In watching the video, one senses that the camera has taken the place of a mirror. Abramovic's simple act is open to interpretation. It has been seen as exemplifying a feminist critique of expectations on women to be beautiful, and yet it is compelling viewing precisely because the artist is so beautiful. The work can be read as masochistic, but also as ascetic—with the artist entering a trance-like state, 'freeing body and soul from the restrictions imposed by culture and from the fear of physical pain and death'. As Abramovic has became one of the most famous figures in contemporary art, it is now also easy to read the work retrospectively, as a meditation on celebrity and self-image. In 1999 Abramovic said, 'At that time, I thought that art should be disturbing rather than beautiful. But at my age now, I have started thinking that beauty is not so bad.'
Thanks to Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, and Nederlands Instituut voor Mediakunst, Montevideo/Time Based Arts, Amsterdam.