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Hardcover | $32.95 Trade | £22.95 | ISBN: 9780262232623 | 344 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 100 b&w illus.| January 2010

Essential Info

When Marina Abramovic Dies

A Biography


Marina Abramovic has spent four decades making traumatic and transcendent artworks using her own body as a material--and breaking through the boundaries of visual art along the way. In the early 1970s, Abramovic; began making performances that have turned into legend. These included lying in the center of a burning five-pointed star (symbol of the communism of her native Yugoslavia) until she lost consciousness; remaining determinedly passive for six hours while members of an audience did whatever they wanted to her (even pushing a loaded gun into her neck); and cutting a pentagram on her stomach before whipping herself and lying naked on a cross made of ice.

When Marina Abramovic Dies examines the extraordinary life and death-defying work of one of the most pioneering artists of her generation--and one who is still at the forefront of contemporary art today. This intimate, critical biography chronicles Abramovic’s formative and until now undocumented years in Yugoslavia, and tells the story of her partnership with the German artist Ulay--one of the twentieth century’s great examples of the fusion of artistic and private life. Abramovic/Ulay started out living in a Citröen van, touring Europe and making “relational” performances that explored their symbiotic (and often painful) relationship. In their final performance, after twelve years of collaboration, the two walked toward each other from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China until, after ninety days, they met in the middle and said goodbye.

In one of many long-durational performances in the renewed solo career that followed, Abramovic famously lived in a New York gallery for twelve days without eating or speaking, nourished only by prolonged eye contact with audience members. It was here, in 2002, that author James Westcott first encountered her, beginning an exceptionally close relation between biographer and subject. When Marina Abramovic Dies draws on Westcott’s personal observations of Abramovic, his unprecedented access to her archive, and hundreds of hours of interviews he conducted with the artist and the people closest to her. The result is a unique and vivid portrait of the charismatic self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art."

About the Author

James Westcott has written on art, architecture, and politics for numerous publications including the Guardian and the Village Voice, and was editor of He now writes and edits for AMO, the think tank and publishing unit of Rem Koolhaas's Office for Metropolitan Architecture, in Rotterdam.


“[This book] is illuminating, well illustrated (100 photographs), and extremely thorough. It is also a great read.— Elizabeth Otto, Women’s Art Journal

“Westcott has almost certainly produced what will be considered AbramoviC's definitive biography, at least ofher first sixty-five years.”— Roberta Mock,Cambridge University Press


This book is a magnificent way to get to know Marina's work. To experience not only the better known iconic/monumental side of it but also unite with this the spiritual and the emotional. An invaluable document in the hard-to-document world of performance art.Bjork

I have known and admired Marina for the last thirty years, both as an artist and as a person, and in reading this remarkable book I recognize a clear insight into both aspects of her personality. With great and obvious love tempered by a sense of humor, Mr. Westcott looks back over the life of this unique artist and insightfully traces the way her personal experiences are reflected in her art, and how her ever-growing dedication to her art in return changed her life. This book honors the legendary career of a fierce and fearless performer, and at the same time celebrates the warm, generous human being she is and the many myths and fables that have accumulated around her (not a few the result of her own self-deprecating sense of humor).— Robert Wilson

What an amazing journey. I fell in love with Marina the first time we met, when she was driving around in circles for days in a small car in Paris. I still love her and am inspired by her work. This biography reveals Marina in all of her beautiful contradictions.— Laurie Anderson

Since she conceived of her first performance in 1969, Marina Abramović has been a prime mover in the development of what became known as performance art, a source of its invention like none other, a force. What fuels that dynamism and has shaped its uses and defined its far-reaching impact is the subject of James Westcott's portrait of the artist and account of her work. Gaston Bachelard warned against trying to explain a flower by its fertilizer, but absent Westcott's vivid description of Abramovic's extraordinary childhood among the Communist elite of the former Yugoslavia, her challenge to the authority of Eastern Bloc orthodoxies, her departure for Western Europe and her subsequent exploration of cultures from Asia to Australia to the Americas, our grasp of her motives and our appreciation of her audacity would be much less detailed or critically well informed. Exceptionally candid and articulate in conversationthe artist's voice echoes throughout this bookand performances, Abramović is a public mystery, a contemporary Sphinx. Rather than destroy that mystery, Westcott deepens it. Rather than contain her art, he opens it up.— Robert Storr, Dean, School of Art, Yale University