To be fair, sensory deprivation is all the rage these days with float tanks and whatnot—it’s a sort of cursory reflex, a backlash to our very screen-friendly society. Though, ironically, it produced precisely the opposite effect at the party. Without the diversion of conversation, guests were more glued to their iPhones than ever. Rows of butterfly chairs were set up across the ground floor of the museum, and later they provided a front row seat to Abramović’s performance, but for the first hour of the “party,” people sat wearing their headphones and scrolling through their Twitter feeds rather than wandering upstairs to look at the exquisite Agnes Martin retrospective in “silent contemplation,” as the press release read was the intention. And while the intended effect was surely of the soporific, hypnotic, meditative variety, it was just, well, irritating. The approach to performance art can be like a Rorschach—it means whatever you want it to be mean. But the takeaway from this reporter? It was a totally strange and totally pretentious exercise in tedious inertia.
After the excruciating 70 minutes of artful affectation, Abramović emerged to the stage with a friend, a figure dissembled in an all-black executioner’s uniform. She banged on a gong and pulled out a scroll. “Friends and enemies,” she began, reading alongside the executioner. “At 70, you realize you have two choices: You can make age your enemy or you can make it your friend. I have decided to make my age be my friend. Friends and enemies, you are both equally important to me…every one of you has played a role in the theater of my life.” We sure have.