Performance Art

Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time

Monday, November 9, 2015–Friday, February 19, 2016
10:00 am–9:45 pm
Jeanne and Stokley Towles Gallery (Gallery 261)

For her first solo exhibition, Boston-based artist Marilyn Arsem carries out the most durational performance to date of ther four-decade-long career. Over the course of the 100-day performance, she occupies the gallery daily for six hours. Each new day centers on a single task that marks the passage of time: counting continuously from one to reach 5,800; walking in circular paths for over ten miles total; watching an eight-inch sphere of ice melt; grinding marble stones into dust.

“If viewers have the time to allow themselves to slow down with me,” Arsem offers, “small details will become visible. The work could be viewed as if it were a Minimalist or abstract painting or sculpture. In that respect, it operates similarly as a kind of opaque or seemingly simple surface that reflects back to the viewers the complexity of their own thoughts. This is not a work that offers answers, but rather one that provides an opportunity to consider one’s own concerns about the passage of time.”

Arsem has dedicated her career to exploring the unique characteristics of performance art and the challenges associated with experiencing and documenting time-based, ephemeral work. As such, the audience’s responses and recollections are integral to the documentation of her performances. For 100 Ways to Consider Time, Arsem invites viewers to contribute reflections on how they experience the passage of time in their own lives via letter, e-mail, Twitter, and Instagram, using #MarilynArsem and @mfaBoston. Through Arsem’s performance, the Museum becomes a site of artistic creation in which all who are present with the work participate in shaping its many forms.

Born in 1951, Arsem is a defining figure in the field of performance art and has performed nearly 190 works around the world. In 1977, she founded Mobius, one of the longest-standing artist-run nonprofits in the US, and has since helped establish Boston as a hub for international artists working to advance live art. On the faculty for 27 years at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, she led the performance art program, educating generations of visual artists. In 2015, Arsem became the first performance artist to receive the MFA’s prestigious Maud Morgan Prize, established in 1993 to honor the vanguard spirit of New England artist Maud Morgan (1903–99). The 10,000 USD biennial prize honors a Massachusetts-based woman artist who has made significant contributions to the contemporary arts landscape.

Throughout the exhibition, the MFA offered free downloads of a newly released e-book on Arsem’s work, The Performance Art of Marilyn Arsem. As one of the first publications of its kind, this groundbreaking document harnesses the e-book’s capacity to convey key aspects of time-based art through multimedia. The e-book is authored by exhibition curators Liz Munsell, assistant curator of Contemporary Art and Special Initiatives, a position supported by Lorraine Bressler, and Edward Saywell, chair, Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art and Arthur K. Solomon Curator of Modern Art.


Presented with support from The Contemporaries.

Performance Art at the MFA is supported by Lorraine Bressler.

Generous support for the publication was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Publications Fund.