Partway through Jeffrey Akers’ documentary “Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present,” the eponymous performance artist dryly tells a nervous German interviewer that he has asked her all the usual questions, “except for the one about ‘Why is this art?’” Everyone now knows the answer to that, she goes on, or at least pretends that they do. “I used to hate that question, but now I kind of miss it.”
Indeed, I think it remains a highly relevant question, and the most normal one for anyone encountering Abramović’s work for the first time to ask. One of the beauties of Akers’ moving and memorable film is that it answers that question better than any art-world documentary I’ve ever seen. If you come to the movie with an open mind, you will come away utterly convinced about the craft, discipline and intention that this striking, statuesque and undeniably charismatic woman, now in her early 60s, brings to what she does. Which involves, in the case of her now-legendary 2010 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (which had the same title as this film), sitting in a chair without moving for seven-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week. For almost four months.