Marina Abramovic: Can an artist steal 'nothing'?

Marina Abramovic: Can an artist steal 'nothing'?
Performance artist Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2011. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

It's a question only art-world scholars (and maybe their lawyers) could dream up. Can an artist be accused of stealing "nothing"?

Marina Abramovic, the famed performance artist, has landed in hot water this week over claims that her new installation "512 Hours" at London's Serpentine Gallery  -- during which she is expected to do "nothing" -- doesn't properly acknowledge the work of another artist.


As reported by Britain's the Guardian, a letter sent to the Serpentine by a group of historians and curators accuses Abramovic of failing to acknowledge the influence of Mary Ellen Carroll's "Nothing," an ongoing project which features the latter artist addressing the concept of "nothing" through various media, including video and print.

The letter, which was reportedly sent to the Serpentine's  curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, stated that the failure to cite Carroll's influence would be detrimental to Carroll's ability to perform "Nothing" in the future. The letter's signatories include several U.S.-based art experts, including David Joselit, a professor at the City University of New York; Frazer Ward, a professor at Smith College; and Yona Backer, an arts consultant to the Lambent Foundation.

Joselit told the Guardian that it was important for Abramovic to "acknowledge this genealogy," adding that while the the works were different, both addressed "the question of nothing. Doing nothing."

However, Joselit stopped short of accusing Abramovic of plagiarism. "I am not prepared to say Marina Abramovic is involved in plagiarising or anything like that," he told the Guardian.

Obrist told the Guardian that a conversation has been arranged between Abramovic and Carroll.

"512 Hours" is scheduled to run June 11  to Aug. 25 at the Serpentine. The artist is scheduled to perform 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., six days a week. According to the gallery, the "only materials will be herself, the audience and a selection of common objects that she will use in a constantly changing sequence of events."