Artist Who Performed in the Nude at MoMA’s 2010 Marina Abramovic Exhibition Sues the Museum
January 23, 2024
A performance artist who participated as a nude performer in the 2010 Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present” has sued the New York institution, accusing it of failing to prevent sexual assaults against him by museum attendees, according to a complaint filed in Manhattan court Monday.
In the complaint, John Bonafede, a New York–based painter and performance artist, said that he experienced repeated sexual assault by museum-goers and alleges that MoMA “had actual knowledge of ongoing sexual assaults against many of its worker-performers … yet it intentionally and negligently failed to take corrective action to prevent the assaults from recurring.”
The New York Postreported on incidents at the 2010 exhibition at the time, with female performers telling the newspaper that they’d experienced groping and others saying they’d been “pushed, prodded and poked.” The museum told the Post at the time that it was “well aware of the challenges” faced by nude performers in the exhibition and that violators were escorted out by MoMA security. The New York Times and other outlets also covered the incidents at the time.
The exhibition marked MoMA’s first performance art retrospective and featured 38 performers in rotating two-hour shifts of eight who either lay beneath a skeleton, faced each other at a doorway, or stood in other performance pieces in the exhibition.
Bonafede’s lawsuit specifically concerns Imponderabilia, the work that sets nude performers at either side of portal. First performed in 1977 by Abramović herself and her then-partner Ulay, the performance requires gallery visitors to squeeze between its performers, rubbing against their nude bodies in the process. It has since been restaged at many venues, including the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
The lawsuit has been brought now due to New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which created a “one-year lookback window for survivors of sexual assault that occurred when they were over the age of 18 to sue their abusers regardless of when the abuse occurred.” Late last year, as the lookback window was set to expire, numerous lawsuits were filed accusing high-profile celebrities of sexual assault or misconduct, including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Russell Brand, and others.
In the complaint, Bonafede claimed that the sexual assaults he experienced have caused “years of emotional distress and substantially harmed [his] mental health, body, image, and career.”
Bonafede said he is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, reimbursement of attorney fees, and other relief as to be determined in court.
A MoMA spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.