Marina Abramović is a legend in the world of performance art, but that’s a rarefied world, well outside the mainstream. While her work has always courted attention, a 2010 MoMA retrospective took the concept to a new level; Abramović sat in the gallery all day, six days a week, for three months, and invited the public to sit across from her. More than 750,000 people accepted the invitation. What compels a person to seek connection on a level that is both so grand and so intimate? Walk Through Walls offers many clues, but as with all art, it falls to the recipient to complete the story.
Born in postwar Yugoslavia, Abramović chafed under the restrictions of the Tito regime and her strict, neglectful parents. Access to art supplies proved to be an escape route; painting led to work with sound and then to performance pieces that were often violent and dangerous. Passionate and highly sexual (even now, at 70, as she reminds us here), her work and love lives often intertwined; years of collaboration with fellow artist and lover Ulay culminated in the two walking to meet one another midway on the Great Wall of China only to break up afterward.
From the pain of her upbringing to her tremendous success, it’s clear that Abramović was destined for a life lived on a grand scale. She’s candid about her process and the sources of her ideas, but the discussion never reduces the finished works to something simple. And while Walk Through Walls reads as a frank and straightforward retelling of a life story, it’s impossible to separate the memoir from the author’s milieu. Is this also a performance, confined to the page? Where is the dividing line that separates life and art? That question, and tension, make this an electrifying read.