L.A.'s MOCA gala sparks controversy

By Naomi Brand

Performance artist Marina Abramović’s centre piece performance for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’ (MOCA) annual donor gala has sparked controversy and debate over alleged exploitation of performers. During last month’s gala dinner attended by 750 celebrity and art world guests, dozens of performers knelt beneath the large dinner table with their heads protruding through holes in the table slowly rotating and making eye contact with guests. Others lay nude rotating on top of circular tables with fake skeletons on top of them re-enacting Abramović’s signature piece Nude with Skeleton (2002). After attending an audition for the project in early November, L.A.-based dancer/choreographer Sara Wookey wrote an (at the time) anonymous letter informing MOCA about the conditions being asked of artists for Ambromavić’s piece, which Wookey described as “extremely problematic, exploitative, and potentially abusive.” In an open letter to artists, Wookey states that performers were expected to commit to fifteen hours of rehearsal time, to lie naked and speechless as human centrepieces during the four-hour event even in the case of harassment and sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement stating that they could be sued by the event’s producer for a sum of $1 million if they spoke to anyone about what occurred in the audition. American dancer, choreographer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer also wrote a letter to MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch criticizing the organization for “stoop[ing] to such degrading methods of fund raising.” Wookey’s letter to artists calls for the creation of labour standards and fair wages to protect performing artists in L.A. and beyond.

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