Sets for the Artist Marina Abramovic’s Dramatic Life

FOR Marina Abramovic, a 63-year-old Yugoslavian-born performance artist, the star is a potent symbol, and it makes frequent appearances in her work. Ms. Abramovic, whose retrospective, “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present,” opens this month at the Museum of Modern Art, constructed and set a large star on fire in an early piece, lying down inside it. During another widely publicized performance, she carved a star around her navel in what she describes as an anti-Communist act.

“I come from a Communist country,” she said. “The star is on my birth certificate and on every book in the school — they remind me of the restrictions of freedom.”

So it’s no accident that the house she owns in Malden Bridge, N.Y., in Columbia County, is star-shaped.

It took “30 seconds” to make the decision to buy it, she said. Not only did the shape have personal significance, she explained, “it’s a beautiful harmony of space and light, and a 360-degree view.”

Like Ms. Abramovic’s loft in SoHo, where she will spend most of her time while her show is at MoMA, the 3,400-square-foot house was designed by Dennis Wedlick, a Manhattan architect. It was built in the early 1990s for a doctor and his three adult children, so that every member of the family could have his own wing. (Each of the four bedrooms on the third floor occupies a different point of the six-pointed star; the two bathrooms are in the remaining points.)

But when Ms. Abramovic, a self-described minimalist, bought it in 2007, for $1.25 million, she said, there were murals painted throughout the house and the floors were a grainy yellow pine that she hated.

“The house was heavy,” she said.

That’s how she met Mr. Wedlick.

Ms. Abramovic, who is not known for her reticence, simply called and left him a message saying, “This is Marina. I just bought your star house, and I have a sofa arriving tomorrow, and I need you here.”

“It caught me off guard,” said Mr. Wedlick, who had no idea who Marina was. It took him two weeks to call her back, he said, but when they finally met, “I totally fell in love with her. She has the most ordinary persona for someone who does such extraordinary, controversial work.”

“Marina doesn’t point out details,” he continued. “She only tells you one or two ideas. She never changes her mind; she makes a decision and goes on.”

Perhaps because of that, he found her very easy to work with. “She said, ‘Dennis, make this white,’ ” he recalled. “She gave us $250,000 and eight weeks.”

Following Ms. Abramovic’s instructions to strip the house bare, he had the walls and ceilings painted white. The floors were refinished with a sealer called Bona Naturale, to soften the grain without adding sheen, so that they would be smooth and pale as well. Columns flanking some entrances were removed, as was the circular driveway.

“Americans like to park their cars in front of the house,” Ms. Abramovic said. “This is unacceptable. A car should be parked out behind the barn.”

There is still color, but in discrete bursts: the orange of a 1965 Olivier Mourgue Djinn Relaxer, the cobalt blue of a 1968 Bouloum chaise, the red of a 1968 Kazuhide Takahama Suzanne sofa.

“She likes bright colors as a sculptural piece, as a moment,” Mr. Wedlick said.

The renovation went so well that as soon as it was completed, Ms. Abramovic gave Mr. Wedlick $750,000 and four months to redo her city home, a 2,500-square-foot loft she had purchased in 2001 for $1.5 million. (Sean Kelly, her Manhattan gallerist, sells photos of her performances for between $40,000 and $350,000, which has helped finance her renovations.)

There, to eliminate any sign of messiness for his fastidious client, he structured the design around a 370-square-foot translucent cube that contains the kitchen, the dressing room, the laundry room and a guest bathroom, and can be closed off with aluminum-framed frosted-glass doors. Some of the kitchen cabinets are clad in turquoise-lacquered wood, others in Granny Smith-green glass.

“A city is so gray,” Ms. Abramovic said. “Green is healing to the eye.” When the cube is closed, she noted, it glows a soft blue-green, like a “light box.”From the New York Times


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