Visitors to London’s Royal Academy need to squeeze between a pair of nude performers to see new show

Squeezing through the naked doorway at the Royal Academy of Arts
Squeezing through the naked doorway at the Royal Academy of Arts - David Parry/David Parry/ Royal Academy of Arts

Visitors to an upcoming Royal Academy of Arts exhibition will find their way blocked by two nude performance artists, a man and a woman.

It is only by squeezing themselves through the gap in the middle that those brave enough will gain access to the imminent Marina Abramović exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts.

The performance, called Imponderabilia, forces a “confrontation between nakedness, and the gender, the sexuality, the desire,” said Andrea Tarsia, the Royal Academy’s head of exhibitions.

There is a separate entrance for the prudish.

The exhibition, which runs from Saturday until Jan 1 2024, contains key moments from the artist’s 50-year career.

It includes Luminosity in which a naked woman is pinned high up on the wall in a crucifix pose while seated on a bicycle saddle.

Nude with Skeleton, inspired by the ancient practice of Tibetan monks sleeping with a dead or decaying body, features a naked performance artist lying still on the ground for hours with a skeleton on top of them.

In another piece, House With the Ocean View, three women will occupy separate open platforms on the gallery wall, for 24 hours a day over 12 days without talking and drinking only water.

Safety first

Abramović has given assurances there will be safety precautions in place.

She told The Observer: “For that, we have a doctor, we have a psychologist, we have a psychologist, we have a nutritionist standing by.

“All the stuff I never had when I did it. But they are great performers, people that I trust.”

The 76-year-old Serbian artist had previously carried out these performances herself.

For this run she has enlisted a 42-strong team of “re-performers”, many of whom are graduates trained in her method at her institute in New York.

Under-16s must be accompanied by an adult ticket holder for the event, organisers said.

ID checks will be carried out at the door and all visitors are informed in an email beforehand that photography or filming of the live performances is banned.

Gallery staff will be on standby to protect the performance artists from any unwanted touching or inappropriate behaviour.

A spokesman for the Royal Academy of Arts said safety and welfare was their top priority.

“Performance artists will always be escorted and safeguarded by a fellow performer (facilitator) to and from their position in the galleries and a dedicated production manager will manage the schedules and safeguarding,” he said.

At a 2010 showing of Imponderabilia at New York’s Museum of Modern Art several visitors were thrown out for groping the performers.

First for a female artist

Abramović is the first female artist in the 255-year history of the Royal Academy to be given the run of the main galleries for the exhibition.

It will also pay homage to her 1974 performance of Rhythm 0, in which she placed 72 objects on a table and gave permission for visitors to use them however they wished.

They included a bullet, a gun, a bottle of perfume, a rose, a scalpel and a metal bar.

During the performance Abramovic’s throat was slashed, her clothes cut from her body with razor blades and a loaded gun was put to her head.

It ended when a fight broke out between the visitors.

Abramović later said of the performance: “What I learned was that ... if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you ... I felt really violated.”

Tickets cost between £25.50 and £27.50 and are available from the Royal Academy of Art’s website.