The courage of Sara Wookey 4

Dance · Ideas & Opinion · Visual arts

The subject is the so-called performance art featuring nude dancers on display as dinner-party decorations at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s fundraising gala in mid-November. Some poked heads thru tables as patrons dined; others lay inert with skeletons draped on their bodies. All women decorating tabletops, mind you. No men.

It’s a tired idea that the likes of Jean Cocteau or other surrealists probably thought of and discarded circa 1931. In fact, based on photos at right and below, the artist behind the spectacle, Marina Abramovic, seems to have more than a passing familiarity with Cocteau’s work. 

I support the dancer/choreographer Sara Wookey in her call for professional wages for dancers. I reprint her essay below in hopes that it will further an important conversation.

Modern dance and film making legend, Yvonne Rainer, weighed in mightily on the subject here.

I decry the exploitation of artists anywhere, but it holds particular repugnance when it takes place at an art museum. I like that Ms. Wookey has “outed” the issue. Believe me there is desperation and exploitation going on with arts writers too. I support fair pay for artists, and that includes arts writers.

MOCA needs to address its responsibility in the controversy in a more thoughtful manner than, “For me this is the way the art world works, it’s all about dialogue,” which were the inadequate, self justifying words that MOCA Director, Jeffrey Deitch, tossed off a few weeks ago. As our society lurches sideways if not backward on so many fronts, it’s disturbing to see the lack of moral leadership from a vanguard institution like MOCA.

The bottom line seems to be, does MOCA respect and support the professionalism of artists, or does it exploit them as objects? You cannot have it both ways.

Writes Ms. Wookey on the gig she turned down:

I was expected to lie naked and speechless on a slowly rotating table, starting from before guests arrived and lasting until after they left (a total of nearly four hours). I was expected to ignore (by staying in what Abramovic refers to as “performance mode”) any potential physical or verbal harassment while performing. I was expected to commit to fifteen hours of rehearsal time, and sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement stating that if I spoke to anyone about what happened in the audition I was liable for being sued by Bounce Events, Marketing, Inc., the event’s producer, for a sum of $1 million dollars plus attorney fees.

I was to be paid $150. Read more…


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4 thoughts on “The courage of Sara Wookey

  1. debra Nov 27,2011 10:33 pm

    I am dead curious how people could eat food at those tables. It’s unbelievable to me. I would choke first.

  2. Denise Schultz Nov 27,2011 10:19 pm

    Debra and Sara Wookey, thank you for speaking out about this. Sara said that she was not commenting on the artistic content. I would like to do that. Just because the nude, silent performer is being re-contextualized as art, does not make this anything other than prurient exploitation. You’re right, Debra, they can’t have it both ways. It is about as far from being a nude art class model as I could imagine, and many, if not all of them, have many, if not all of the protections Sara wants to see. This is the ugliest and most blatant example of the Emperor’s New Clothes I’ve come across in 50+ years. When the ‘artist’ is ready to do that with her own body, then I’ll know she is as big a fool as she wants the public to be.

  3. Keith Nov 27,2011 10:08 pm

    Thanks for posting this! We, the artists, are well aware that this kind of thing goes on and the more eyes we can open to this, the better for the world! Kudos to Sara for speaking out! Kudos to you for carrying her on your shoulders!

  4. Gina Buntz Nov 27,2011 11:38 am

    Debra, THANK YOU for re-publishing Ms. Wookey’s article. It is nothing short of an artists’s manifesto for fair treatment. Performance artists of all kinds have been subject to this kind of treatment and lack of respect for longer than I’ve been alive. Considered both “part of the territory” and a thing to tolerate as one pony’s up the professional ladder to “success,” it’s just another form of the Casting Couch, Non-Profit style.

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