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MoMA dismisses lawsuit over sexual assault allegations during Marina Abramović nude performance

MoMA dismisses lawsuit over sexual assault allegations during Marina Abramović nude performance

The Museum of Modern Art in New York has addressed allegations that it did not adequately prevent sexual assaults against an artist involved in a Marina Abramović piece in 2010, asserting that it cannot be held responsible for the accusations made against it.

Performance artist John Bonafede, in a legal complaint submitted to a New York State court last month, detailed seven cases of sexual assault by five older people while participating in Abramović's piece titled "Imponderabilia" in a 2010 exhibition.

The notorious performance, originally staged in 1977 by Abramović and her then-partner Ulay, involves two fully nude performers standing in a doorway, forcing the public to pass between them and choose which one to face.

Bonafede claims that MoMA "had actual knowledge of ongoing sexual assaults against many of its worker-performers… yet it intentionally and negligently failed to take corrective action to prevent the assaults from recurring.”

The lawsuit also alleges that another performer was fired on the exhibition's opening day for failing to maintain stillness, and that Bonafede initially chose to remain silent to avoid a similar fate.

How has MoMA responded to the allegations?

A visitor squeezes past people performing "Imponderabilia" on display during the "Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present" exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010 .
A visitor squeezes past people performing "Imponderabilia" on display during the "Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present" exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010 . - Credit: Mary Altaffer/AP2010

On Tuesday, MoMA called for the dismissal of the lawsuit and denied any culpability for Bonafede’s allegations, stating, “even if true,” as per a lawyer representing the museum.

The lawyer emphasised that MoMA did not display any “gender-based animus” that would make it accountable for what reportedly transpired to Bonafede within the exhibition.

Within Bonafede's legal filing, he recounts the assaults as being "eerily similar", detailing how each "older man" would pivot towards the artist, dropping their hand before "fondling and groping" his genitalia, then "lingering for a moment before moving through into the next gallery room."

MoMA's response reads: “While incidental contact was expected, MoMA prescribed procedures for performers to report any concerns."

It adds: “MoMA hired a stage manager to serve as a liaison between the performers and MoMA curators. Performers and MoMA staff created a signal system to alert security in the event performers were inappropriately touched, the protocols for which were included in the performers’ handbook.”

"Imponderabilia" was recently restaged at the Royal Academy of Arts in London as part of the first retrospective of the female Serbian artist.