Sex, Art, and Misogyny

In 1974 the performance artist Marina Abramovic stood naked and immobile in a Naples gallery. Next to her was a table with seventy-two objects, including a loaded gun. Beside the objects was a document absolving the audience of responsibility for whatever they might choose to do to her with those objects. Freeing the audience from accountability turned the performance into an exposé of their ethics: they became actors in a scenario as well as witnesses of one another’s behavior. Some of them made violent gestures toward Abramovic—they were not exclusively sexual, but many were. She endured cuts to her skin as well as what one critic described as intimate caresses and minor sexual assaults before the audience erupted into a fight when a participant put the gun to her head. Interestingly, as soon as Abramovic ceased to be immobile and began to walk toward the people around her, they fled the gallery rather than reckoning with what they had done.

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