Marina Abramović was born in 1946 in Belgrade, Serbia. She was raised in Yugoslavia by parents who fought as partisans in World War II and were later employed in the communist government of Tito. In 1965, Abramović enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade to study painting. She became interested in the possibilities of performance art, specifically the ability to use her body as a site of artistic and spiritual exploration. After completing her postgraduate studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, Croatia in 1972, Abramović conceived a series of visceral performance pieces that engaged her body as both subject and medium.
In 1975, Abramović moved to Amsterdam, and a year later, she began collaborating with Frank Uwe Laysiepen (byname Ulay). Much of their work together was concerned with gender identity, most notoriously Imponderabilia (1977), in which they stood naked while facing each other in a museum’s narrow entrance, forcing visitors to squeeze between them and, in so doing, to choose which of the two to face. The couple’s Nightsea Crossing (1981–87), a prolonged act of mutual meditation and concentration, was performed in more than a dozen locations around the world. When they decided to end their relationship in 1988, they symbolically marked the dissolution with a piece in which they walked from either end of the Great Wall of China and met in the middle to say goodbye.
Since the beginning of her career during the early 1970s, Abramović has pioneered performance as a visual art form and created some of the most important early works in this practice. Employing her own body, she explores her physical and mental limits. Abramović has withstood pain, exhaustion and danger in her quest for emotional and spiritual transformation.
Abramović was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Artist at the 1997 Venice Biennale. In 2008, she was decorated with the Austrian Commander Cross for her contribution to art history. In 2010, the artist had her first major U.S. retrospective and simultaneously performed for over 700 hours in The Artist is Present at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2014, she completed the three-month performance 512 Hours at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Her retrospective, The Cleaner, opened at Moderna Museet, Stockholm in February 2017 and subsequently toured Europe. In 2019, The Cleaner is shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade. In 2021, Abramović will be the subject of a solo exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.