Marina Ambromovic and Monet’s Water Lilies

by kbarulich

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, MoMA, New York


Invitation to Appreciate and Join

At the Museum of Modern Art, many different kinds of art are displayed and the viewer interacts with each in a different way. In Marina Ambramovic’s piece, “The Artist is Present” consists of Marina Ambramovic and another performer sitting at a simple wooden table across from each other on wooden chairs. She wears a long, red gown and holds a fixed pose and gaze. Her partners, who may take a break whenever they are tired and be replaced by someone else, also hold a fixed gaze, though they appear to be secondary in this piece. Ambramovic specializes in performance art and has been using her own body as subject, object, and medium of her work since the 1970’s.  She specifically chooses to use her body as medium as a tool to visualize the here and now. There are many challenges presented when using your own body as a medium to create art. The artist can only do what is physically possible, whereas a sculptor working with metal or painter working with acrylic paint can create anything imaginable. The performers can only endure for so long and it is impossible to exactly replicate or transport this work.

These challenges are also the opportunities provided by the medium of the artist’s body. This piece is a real situation that is actually happening as we view it. The same feeling could not be created with any other medium. Ambramovic distorts the line between everyday routine and ceremony. The charged space that exists between Ambramovic and the other individual is the content of her work. It is a space where nothing or possibly everything happens.

This piece was set up as an invitation for the viewer to engage in and complete a unique situation. Being positioned in a vast atrium within a square of light, the table and chair set-up is elevated to another level. Visitors are encouraged to sit across from Ambramovic, becoming participants in the artwork rather than remaining spectators. On the wall behind the artist is a tally mark, showing the months of March, April, and May that Ambramovic has and will be performing.  I thought the presentation was unique and interesting and I enjoyed sitting across from the artist and participating in the work. It felt odd to be sitting around a giant square with all these other people staring at two people who were not moving, but I felt the presentation enhanced my viewing of the art. The only thing I would change as the curator would be to make the lighting less bright, so that the table setting seemed more normal, like it could happen everyday.

Since “The Artist is Present” is performance art, it is being produced today in New York and is different than most art being produced right now that is not performance-based. It is not a part or deviant from a specific movement since it is so current. This piece seems to attempt a spiritual merit by elevating the ordinary to another domain, though it is not specifically religious. It comments on social beliefs regarding notions of public and private by making a usually private setting public for all to see. The artist could be attempting to expose private feelings and publicize them for everyone to participate in. These ideas were not clear to me, but after reading the wall text I understood the concepts. I think the curator did a good job in clarifying the ideation behind the work while also leaving some room for the viewer to come up with his or her own opinion of the piece and become a part of it.

The presentation of Monet’s “Water Lilies” is very different than the Marina Ambramovic’s performance art. It is oil paint on three large canvases. Claude Monet used the oil paint to create the impressionist style paintings that captures the feeling of a moment in time opposed to accurately depicting a real scene. The oil paint and canvas provide the perfect medium for Monet’s style and subject, a Japanese style pond covered with water lilies.  The curator puts all of Monet’s water lily paintings in one room, enveloping the viewer in Monet’s vision of controlled natural beauty. There is a large, cushioned bench in the center of the room, where viewers can sit and look at any painting around the room. The three-panel painting that I am focusing on is “displayed at a slight angle in response to Monet’s wish that the paintings encompass the viewer”. The water’s surface fills the expansive composition so that the clues to the “artist’s – and the viewer’s — vantage point are eliminated”. I thought the curator did an excellent job of creating a peaceful environment that made me feel like I was, and really could be, in Monet’s garden in Giverny, France.

Claude Monet painted “Water Lilies” between 1915 and 1926. He was a founder of the French Impressionist movement in painting, which was primarily harshly scrutinized by most art critics. Monet used visible brush strokes, emphasized light, and painted ordinary subjects, including movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience. Monet painted the panels of this triptych near the end of his life while suffering from cataracts at his estate in Giverny, France. He captured a beautiful moment in his private gardens, now being enjoyed by the public. Mostly informing the viewer about Monet’s garden, the curator gives a satisfactory amount of information regarding the ideation of this piece, but Monet this work does not seem to be associated with any philosophical idea, political implications, or religious affiliations.

Monet painted this piece at his home in remote northern France as an Impressionistic depiction of the beauty he observed in his garden. He focused on these gardens as subjects as his paintings for twenty years, so they were clearly very important to him. The viewer can look at these paintings separately or grouped together like at the MOMA. Monet’s “Water Lilies” simply provides a “balm for the modern soul”, giving freethinkers a place to enjoy beauty.  Both Ambramovic and Monet provide the viewer with a piece of art and we are invited to enjoy it and become part of it.