‘Spirit Cooking’ artist tells donors $2.2 million raised for project went to pot

Marina Abramovic Institure building in Hudson, N.Y. (File photo)

The performance artist, who became famous for her “Spirit Cooking” events exposed in the WikiLeaks release of John Podesta’s emails, is catching heat for her handling of millions of dollars she raised off Kickstarter.

“Performance artist Marina Abramovic has backed out of her grandiose plans for her upstate arts institute and questions loom over what happened to the $2.2 million she raised over four years for the project, including donations from the likes of Jay-Z and nearly 5,000 donors in a Kickstarter campaign,” reported The New York Post.

The goal of the project was to convert a 1936 building in Hudson, New York into the permanent home of the Marina Abramovic Institute, which would be devoted to the development and study of performance art, according to the project’s Kickstarter page.

The second phase of the project was the developing of blueprints and plans and the purpose of the Kickstarter campaign.

Artist’s conception of the future Marina Abramovic Institute building (Courtesy of MAI)

In an Oct. 12 update to contributors and supporters, the MAI announced that the project was shuttered:

MAI initiated a Kickstarter campaign to fund the second phase of the studies, the schematic designs. After the completion of this phase, the project budget was estimated to exceed 31 million dollars.

In view of that, the Board of MAI has decided to cancel the building project. The project cost and the project risk far exceeds initial expectations and estimates.
MAI continues to be committed to serving its mission and to achieve the greatest possible global impact.

In her Kickstarter campaign explanation page to launch the project, Abramovic, as a community organizer, said she wanted to include the community in the funding, so they would feel invested in her vision.

“By inviting the broader public to contribute to our early development, Kickstarter helps to affirm and build the engaged community necessary for sustaining MAI into the future,” Abramovic said. The Marina Abramovic Institute is the vehicle the artist used for the project.

Contributors could also receive virtual bricks:

Thank you for laying a virtual brick in the foundation of MAI. Your founder status will be commemorated on our official website. Sponsor 10 bricks ($100) and receive a digital COLUMN FOUNDER certificate. Sponsor 100 bricks ($1,000) and receive a digital WALL FOUNDER certificate. Sponsor 1,000 bricks ($10,000) and receive a digital CHAMBER FOUNDER certificate. PLUS Digital MAI reward.

Part of the project involved having participants wear lab coats:

At MAI, labcoats are not intended to repress participants’ individuality, but rather to create a shared experience, bolstering empathic connection between participants. By acting as both a blank slate and common experience, MAI’s labcoats support an audience’s ability to absorb long durational works. Also, they’re kind of fun.

Another component was crystals:

Crystals are routinely used across art, science, technology and spirituality — the very fields MAI hopes to bring into conversation. Not only are they objects of metaphysical fascination, crystals are also pivotal in everyday technologies like watches, printers and computers. A crystal’s unique lattice-work structure reflects numerous touchstones of art and aesthetics, not least among them being long durationality. Along with crystals, a diverse array of items and ideas with technological, artistic, spiritual, and scientific overlaps will be present in programs at the institute, all in the spirit of fostering interdisciplinary conversation and collaboration.

The day MAI announced the shutdown, Howard Sanders, who supported 12 other Kickstarter projects posted:

While it is requested that comments be respectful and considerate, this campaign and the results of it should serve as a warning about what happens when crowd sourced funding is ill considered. That is as respectful as I can be. I have been a recipient of Kickstarter funding and remain eternally grateful. Many great projects found life on this platform. This one is an embarrassment. Feel free to remove it if you find it inappropriate.

Kickstarter “Super Backer” Brook Brown, who has backed 143 projects, posted:

I’m with Howard. I’ll be respectful but I am significantly disappointed in the outcome. The delta between assumed cost and actual is extraordinary, at possibly 100% off the mark.
I’ll continue to support the work MAI is doing, but this is a significant stain on the ability for art-based kickstarters to get funding, and I really hope the effect on others who come after isn’t felt too severely.

Abramovic is also known for her association to the DNC and celebrity supporters of Hillary R. Clinton, who was discovered on 2016 WikiLeaks reports in disturbing emails between John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman and other Clinton supporters.

An example is this email from WikiLeaks from Abramovic to the campaign chairman’s brother:

From: Marina Abramovic <[email protected]<mailto:[email protected]>>
Date: June 28, 2015 at 2:35:08 AM GMT+2
To: Tony Podesta <[email protected]<mailto:[email protected]>>
Subject: Dinner

Dear Tony,

I am so looking forward to the Spirit Cooking dinner at my place. Do you think you will be able to let me know if your brother is joining?

All my love, Marina

Although there was wild speculation about Spirit Cooking on the Internet, in a Nov. 4, 2016 interview with ArtNews the artist said:

“I’m outraged, because this is taken completely out of my context,” Abramovic told me by phone this afternoon. She was at Sean Kelly Gallery, her rep in New York. The dinner, she explained, was a reward for donors to a Kickstarter campaign she had run. Tony Podesta has collected her work since the 1990s, and he attended, but John couldn’t make it. In fact, she has never met John Podesta.

“It was just a normal dinner,” Abramovic said, adding that about 10 people attended. “It was actually just a normal menu, which I call spirit cooking. There was no blood, no anything else. We just call things funny names, that’s all.” (The Kickstarter page advertised “traditional soups.”)



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