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Nude performer at Marina Abramović's 2010 exhibition sues MoMA for failing to prevent 'groping'

John Bonafede performs at the opening night party of “MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT”, 9 March 2010
John Bonafede performs at the opening night party of “MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT”, 9 March 2010 Copyright Credit: Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
Copyright Credit: Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
By Theo Farrant
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The performance artist cites seven instances of "groping" in a legal complaint, involving Imponderabilia, a performance piece originally staged by Abramović in 1977.

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A performance artist, who participated in Marina Abramović's 2010 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, 'The Artist is Present,' is filing a lawsuit against the institution, alleging its failure to prevent sexual assaults directed at him during the event.

John Bonafede, in a legal complaint submitted to a New York State court, detailed seven cases of sexual assault by five older people while participating in Abramović's piece titled Imponderabilia

The notorious performance, originally staged in 1977 by Abramović and her then-partner Ulay, involves two fully nude performers standing in a doorway, forcing the public to pass between them and choose which one to face.

Imponderabilia was recently restaged at the Royal Academy of Arts in London as part of the first retrospective of the female Serbian artist.

Details of the lawsuit

A patron squeezes past people performing "Imponderabilia," on display during the "Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present" exhibit on 15 March 2010.
A patron squeezes past people performing "Imponderabilia," on display during the "Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present" exhibit on 15 March 2010.Credit: Mary Altaffer/AP2010

Within the legal filing, Bonafede recounts the assaults as being "eerily similar", detailing how each "older man" would pivot towards the artist, dropping their hand before "fondling and groping" his genitalia, then "lingering for a moment before moving through into the next gallery room."

The New York-based artist claims 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.”

Seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reimbursement of attorney fees, Bonafede emphasises that the endured sexual assaults have led to “years of emotional distress and substantially harmed [his] mental health, body, image, and career.”

The lawsuit alsoalleges that another performer was fired on the exhibition's opening day for failing to maintain stillness, and that Bonafede initially chose to remain silent to avoid a similar fate.

Bonafede intiated legal action under the New York Adult Survivors Act, which temporarily eliminated the time restriction for filing sexual assault cases for a period spanning from November 2022 to November 2023.

As the window approached its expiration date, a surge of lawsuits emerged, accusing well-known celebrities such as Sean "Diddy" Combs and Russell Brand of sexual assault or misconduct.

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