MoMA Sued For Enabling Sexual Assault During Marina Abramović Performance
By Mikelle Leow, 30 Jan 2024
Photo 159075138 © Malivoja | Dreamstime.com
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City was not present for the accountability of artists and protecting them from sexual assault, claims John Bonafede, a performer who bared it all in Marina Abramovic’s groundbreaking 2010 exhibition.
Bonafede is taking legal action against the establishment, claiming that during his participation in Abramovic’s The Artist Is Present retrospective, particularly in the Imponderabilia performance, he was left exposed not just to the audience’s gaze but to physical distress. This piece, a revival of Abramovic’s 1970s work, required Bonafede and another artist to stand nude, face-to-face, in a doorway, creating a living passage for visitors.
The plaintiff alleges that throughout the show’s duration from March 14 to May 31, 2010, he was subjected to sexual assault by several attendees, mostly older men, and that he promptly reported these actions to the museum’s staff.
The suit outlines a notable account involving a corporate museum member who, following Bonafede’s complaints, was expelled and had his membership revoked.
Despite these reports, Bonafede contends that MoMA’s response was insufficient, failing to take steps that could have prevented further incidents and safeguarded the performers.
Accordingly, before the show’s opening, performers had voiced apprehensions regarding potential harassment due to the nudity involved, concerns that were formally communicated to MoMA in a letter during contract negotiations. However, the museum purportedly did not adequately address these warnings, even as reports of inappropriate behavior emerged within the art community.
Jordan Fletcher, the lawyer representing Bonafede, emphasizes the necessity of providing a secure environment for performers in such avant-garde exhibitions. He explains that while his client is all for “boundary-pushing art” in bigger institutions, performer safety should still be observed.
Seeking closure through a jury trial, Bonafede is demanding compensatory damages for the emotional and professional toll the supposed assaults have taken on him, asserting that he has suffered body image, mental health, and career-related issues as a result of his stint at the show.
The complaint was filed under the New York Adult Survivors Act, a special state law that temporarily lifted the usual time limit for accusers to sue. Although this protection expired last year, it is understood that an extension was granted to this performer.
Last year, Abramovic revised the staging of Imponderabilia to adjust to a societal awareness of personal boundaries and consent. As opposed to the original version where visitors were forced to brush past naked bodies of performers in a tight doorway to explore the rest of the museum, the new work—which ran through January 1 this year at the Gallery of Modern Art in Bologna, Italy—included an alternate path for them to opt out of the intimate encounter.
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