Marina Abramović draws crowds to Serpentine Gallery for 512 Hours of puzzlement

By Mark Sheerin | 17 July 2014

Exhibition review: Marina Abramović, 512 Hours, Serpentine Gallery, London until August 25 2014

© Marco Anelli 2014
A young couple stand facing one another, hands joined, eyes closed, in a bliss of mutual attraction. From time to time their cheeks brush, their foreheads meet.

One of them occasionally stumbles as if close to falling asleep. It hardly matters that they are both male, but it does add a certain element of the unexpected. They are sharing this intimate moment with a gallery full of strangers.

This affectionate couple could not have predicted this centre stage turn of theirs. There’s a camera ban in place, so unless you read a review, you won’t know what to expect from this show.

The stage is shaped like an X. Between its arms are short rows of chairs. Black clad invigilators will invite you to climb up on the plinth or sit on one of the chairs and don noise cancelling headphones.

These are peaceful accoutrements and might well be given out at all future exhibitions. They really allow one to reflect on what’s before you.

In this case, it is 30 or 40 people all focussing on the fact that we are all focussing on the stage. A new age type could tell you we were all channelling our energy in the same direction and undoubtedly something powerful is at work here.

But is the power in a mere set of expectations we bring to a new venture by Abramović? The legend is in the room with us, checking all goes well. We cannot detach this experience from the oft-tearful crowds who came to see her at MoMA.

We are predisposed to have a life changing experience. How strange is that? The world’s first performance artist casts a far reaching spell.

If it all gets too much, turn right and you’ll find yourself in a gallery with some two dozen camp beds. Coloured blankets and more pairs of headphones are on offer for anyone who wants to nap, dream or meditate in perfect synchronicity with this popular show.

This is not a show you stroke your chin and look at, so this reviewer gamely got in bed and enjoyed a semi-cynical reverie.

And in the final space visitors are walking up and down the gallery at a slow, slow pace, often closing their eyes and perhaps from time to time, wondering: ‘Why? Why!? WHY!!!???’

To be fair, while the show might buckle under analysis, plenty of people are spending plenty of time here. After spending an hour in the queue, most people will be invested and expectant.

512 Hours is an event, and you might kick yourself if you miss it. But it might not be enough to check your bags, phones and jackets in the lockers by the entrance.

If you could only check critical faculties and English reservations, I’m sure this show would be a lot of fun.

  • Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm. Admission free.

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Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.

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