Marina Abramović's Bookshelf

marina abramovic reading list

Marina Abramović has been provoking audiences for over four decades – producing performance art that breaks down all barriers between artist and audience, and pushes the limits of both body and mind.

Like Maya Angelou, Abramovic had a hard upbringing and used books as a means to escape: “When I read a book, everything around me stopped existing. All the unhappiness in my family—my parents’ bitter fights, my grandmother’s sadness at having had everything taken away from her—disappeared. I merged with the characters.”

Further expanding on the transcendental power of reading, Abramovic says: “I know that I am reading a powerful book when everything around me disappears and I am unable to put it down until I finish it. A good book can bring you to another state of consciousness and transport you into different times and spaces. I am always searching for that experience of having the reality of the book overpower the reality of my own life.”

On the eve of her 70th birthday, the inimitable artist published her life’s memoirs in Walk Through Walls. Written with a darkly Balkan sense of humor, it presents a candid account of her difficult childhood in postwar Belgrade, intense romantic partnerships, and journey to art superstardom in New York. It also details the books and writers that had profound effects on the artist’s way of thinking – ranging from history and anthropology to spirituality, science fiction and dictionaries.

Read on for a list of books that made a mark on Marina Abromović. Complement with the mesmerizing documentary, Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present, her illuminating Ted Talk on trust, vulnerability and connection, and her timeless Advice to the Young.

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard

“Our developed world is bursting with screens and projections pumping out an incessant stream of what’s real, and what’s represented to be real. In this moment when we are witnessing the evolution of virtual reality, I find Baudrillard’s classic work of semiotics especially relevant. It has been hugely influential for me as a basis from which to explore important concepts and ethics around what our relationship with art and meaning will become. In the future, we will increasingly view the world through representations of reality, which will become so realistic that our brains could become completely deceived.” -MA

The Complete Dramatic Works by Samuel Beckett

On Creativity by David Bohm

“Reading about the creative process from a scientific perspective, I found more similarities to my own work than I thought I would.” -MA

The Renegade by Albert Camus

“I’ll never forget a strange story by Camus, ‘The Renegade.’ It told of a Christian missionary who went to convert a desert tribe and instead was converted by them. When he broke one of their rules, they cut his tongue out.” -MA

Uncommon Wisdom by Fritjof Capra

“There is always something to learn from humans who have true wisdom. This collection of conversations with economists, physicists, doctors, and anthropologists is timeless, with parts that can be read again and again. And you don’t need to read it from beginning to end. I open the book with closed eyes and point to sections at random to read. For me any part of this text can answer my deepest questions.” -MA

Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney

“Nikola Tesla had such intuition about the future, and his ideas are more relevant today than ever before — it’s inspiring to read about his life.” -MA

The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects by Alexandra David-Neel and Lama Yongden

“This is one of my favorite books of all time. I discovered it in my early 20s, and I have never stopped learning from it.” -MA

Collected Works by Mahatma Gandhi (also rec’d by Martin Luther King Jr.Malcolm XGloria Steinem)

“People ask me what book politicians should read. They should read the life of Mahatma Gandhi.” -MA

Essays and Reflections by George Gurdjieff

The Collected Works by Ernest Hemingway

The Castle by Franz Kafka

“Kafka’s unfinished novel features so many lives and so many different moments from the development of our society. Its lessons can be applied to the cultural and political moment we live in right now.” -MA

Collected Works by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels

Japanese Poetry by Arakida Moritake (out of print)

“I like many poets, but these three simple lines by Arakida Moritake (1473-1549) always stay with me as a reminder of the temporality of our existence: An orphaned blossom / returning to its bough, somehow? / No, a solitary butterfly.” -MA

Books by Haruki Murakami

“I like Haruki Murakami. I enjoy the realism he mixes with the surreal Japanese mysticism in his narratives.” -MA

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

The Black Count by Tom Reiss

“Brilliantly researched, this book transports you vividly into the world of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, a mixed-race nobleman and soldier during the French Revolution who inspired his son, Alexandre Dumas, to write The Count of Monte Cristo. It is a must-read.” -MA

Selected Poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke (also rec’d by Bob Dylan)

“Reading Rilke, on the other hand, was like breathing in pure poetic oxygen. He spoke of life in a different way than I’d ever understood it before. His expressions of cosmic suffering and universal knowledge related to ideas I would find later in Zen Buddhist and Sufi writings. Coming upon them for the first time was intoxicating.” -MA

Rasputin: The Biography by Douglas Smith

“Extreme narratives fascinated me. I loved reading about Rasputin, whom no bullet could kill—Communism mixed with mysticism was very much part of my DNA.” -MA

Just Kids by Patti Smith (also rec’d by Annie Clark)

Patti Smith’s Just Kids was a huge inspiration for me. While reading it, I was so nostalgic about the simplicity and innocence of the art scene in the ’70s, which I think she portrayed really well.

Letters: Summer 1926 by Marina TsvetayevaRainer Maria Rilke & Boris Leonidovich Pasternak 

“The best book I’ve ever received as a gift was actually the best gift I ever received from my mother, too. When I was young, she gave me “Letters: Summer 1926,” about the three-way correspondence between Rainer Maria Rilke, Marina Tsvetayeva and Boris Pasternak. Three brilliant minds that had never met, all writing sonnets and passionate letters to each other for four years, eventually falling in love with each other through this correspondence. Seeing this love triangle unfold through actual letters was very exciting for me as a young girl. Later in life, I met Susan Sontag, and she told me she wanted to give me a new edition of a book for which she had recently written the foreword. You can understand my surprise when I discovered it was this very same book. She was always giving me books over the course of our friendship, but this one is the most precious to me, especially since she is no longer with us.” -MA

Zizek’s Jokes by Slavoj Zizek

“Since I live in America, my appetite for dark Balkan humor is greater than ever — especially in this moment of incredible political correctness in comedy.” -MA

(via Walk Through Walls: A MemoirThe WeekThe New York Times; photo by Carlo Bach)

Books by Marina Abramovic

Walk Through Walls: A Memoir (2016)

Categories: Artists

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