The upcoming third season of IFC’s , in which comedians Fred Armisen and Bill Hader lovingly send up famous documentaries, has set its sights on Marina Abramović and her longtime partner Ulay. Australian actress Cate Blanchett will play Izabella Barta, described as “a world-renowned performance artist who feels pressured to put on the show of her life.” The episode will see her reconcile with her former lover, Dimo Van Omen (Armisen), “an infamous provocateur of the art world.”
The famed Serbian performance artist’s 2010 retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art was the subject of Matthew Akers’s 2012 film, , which seems like a natural target for But the episode could also target specific works by the artist.
Could Blanchett and Armisen take on described by Abramović as the most difficult piece she’s ever done? In the piece, she and Ulay held a bow and arrow taut and ready to release, leaning with the full weight of their bodies, for four minutes. The arrow was aimed at Abramović’s heart the entire time.
A review of the film in the notes that Abramović’s “pieces often border on the ridiculous” and performance art is so inaccessible and divisive that “every interlocutor becomes a parody of oneself.” In , Ulay and Abramović alternate screaming into each other’s faces for 15 minutes—another scenario that seems ripe for parody.
Of course, likely faces one major roadblock: Ulay and Abramović performed naked much of the time. The MoMA retrospective was controversially staffed with naked models recreating works like , which required visitors to turn sideways to squeeze between a naked man and woman flanking a doorway.
It will be interesting to see how much, if any, nudity the mockumentary will opt to show on screen. Akers’s original documentary includes footage of outraged Fox News hosts decrying the show, so there’s a good chance we’ll get Hader’s best news anchor impersonation.
But the climax of the episode will almost certainly be when Barta and Van Omen finally reunite. In Akers’s documentary, Abramović, tasked with sitting at the MoMA for 750 hours, suddenly finds herself face-to-face with Ulay, with whom she had become estranged for decades.
Their tumultuous relationship has undeniable mockumentary potential: The two split in dramatic fashion in 1988, walking separately for 90 days to meet in the middle of the Great Wall of China, officially dissolving their union. (Originally, the piece was set to culminate in their marriage, but Ulay impregnated their translator while they were waiting for permits approving the performance.)
The MoMA exhibition’s title work, , was an adaptation of a durational performance work, (1981–87), by the former duo. The two artists sat for hours in silence, facing each other across a long table. At MoMA, museum visitors lined up to take the seat opposite Abramović, sitting in silence with her.
Ulay was a surprise visitor to the performance, and shocked whispers rippled through the space as onlookers realized what was happening. Akers captured the shock in Abramović’s eyes. Soon, the two began weeping, reaching out to hold hands across the table—notably shorter than the one used in the original piece. The touching moment has been watched hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube. (Ulay and Abramović are now reportedly planning to release a joint memoir.)
According to a statement from IFC general manager Blake Callaway, “Cate’s portrayal of an art world superstar has her doing it all: performance art, comedy, and even her own stunts.” A two-time Oscar winner, Blanchett has clearly demonstrated both the dramatic and comedic chops necessary for the role. The actress also has art world cred, having tackled no less than 13 different characters in Julian Rosefeldt’s multi-channel video work Manifesto, which screened in New York at the Park Avenue Armory in 2016 and as a feature film at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
debuts February 20, 2019; the last new episodes aired in October 2016. As of press time, Abramović had not commented on the casting.