When Marina Abramović Dies - book review

I have just finished reading 'When Marina Abramović Dies: A biography' (2010) written by James Westcott. This book captivated me from the beginning until the end. It’s much more than just a collection of facts about the artist. The book contains Abramović's personal anecdotes as well as the recollections of friends, family, and other artists who have met her. I discovered how Abramović's childhood has had such an impact on her development as an artist. As the grandmother of performance art (as she perceives herself), Abramović managed to create unique pieces that demonstrate her amazing endurance and ability to transcend pain. Westcott covers the different stages of her career in great detail over four decades. The 344 glossy pages include black and white photos of Abramović and her family as well as photos documenting her various performances and other important events over the years. 

I was particularly interested to learn how the practice of ascetism greatly influenced Abramović’s performances. I am a big admirer of her work and of her extreme self-discipline and I now have some insight into the fact it is through determination and assiduous working habits that one can achieve a huge amount. 

The book is well written and some prior knowledge about the artist’s various performances may be required to fully appreciate the content. What is interesting is how the author situates Abramović in the context of the world of performance happening concurrently. Vito Acconci, Valie Export, & Joseph Beuys were some of the performance artists who were practicing during the same period and are mentioned in the biography.

There is a fair amount of details about Abramović’s private life which can easily quench any celebrity gossip thirst. Nonetheless, Westcott manages to astutely amalgamate facts and trivia without making the content too dry or too light. 

This is a great book that can teach you about Abramović as both the artist and a sensitive human being. I recommend it to anyone interested in learning about her artistic process, the challenges, and the personal life of someone who has become a legendary performance artist.