Five of the Greatest Moments of Ulay and Marina Abramović

Portrait of Ulay in 2016. Photography by Primoz Korosec. Image courtesy of the artist.
Marina and Ulay in 1980. Image courtesy of Ulay and Marina Abramovic
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Ulay, pioneering performance artist and famed former partner of Marina Abramović, has died at age 76.


Portrait of Ulay in 2016. Photography by Primoz Korosec. Image courtesy of the artist.


Frank Uwe Laysiepen—or better known as Ulay—has passed away early in the morning of Monday 2 March, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, due to health complications at the age of 76. The artist had been undergoing treatment for lymphatic cancer.

He leaves behind a Foundation in Amsterdam and a project space in Ljubljana, both of which he founded in November of last year on the occasion of his 76th birthday. A major retrospective of his work is also due to open at Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in November of this year.

For 12 years, Ulay and Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović were the envy of the art world. Lovers and collaborators, they met in 1976 in Amsterdam and in the decade they lived together they produced 14 “relation works,” most of which were conceived with a collective desire to rid of individual egos and become one through performance art.


Marina and Ulay in 1980. Image courtesy of Ulay and Marina Abramovic


In an Instagram post, Abramović writes, “It is with great sadness I learned about my friend and former partner Ulay’s death today. He was an exceptional artist and human being, who will be deeply missed. On this day, it is comforting to know that his art and legacy will live on forever.”

The art world is oft full of bittersweet love stories, but rarely does one capture so many hearts as Ulay and Marina Abramović.



1. Relation in Time, 1977
For 17 hours, Ulay and Abramović sat back-to-back, tied together by their ponytails in a test of endurance. The performance was conceived as a symbol of their relationship and their quest to become a single artistic entity, forgoing each of their individual egos.



2. Imponderabilia, 1977
During an exhibition opening at the Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, Ulay and Abramović stood naked opposite each other in a doorway, such that anyone passing through could not avoid physical contact and would need to decide whom to make eye contact with. It unearthed the differing attitudes people held towards sexuality.



3. Rest Energy, 1980

A breathtaking performance that saw Ulay and Abramović balance on opposite sides of a drawn bow and arrow, with the arrow pointed at Abramović’s heart. With just one finger, Ulay could have easily killed Abramović. Additionally Abramović held the handle of the bow, which was pointed back at herself too. The work not only tested their physical and mental limits, but symbolically suggested the power dominance of man over woman.


4. The Lovers, 1988
The break up that broke all our hearts. For 90 days, Ulay and Abramović walked from opposite sides of the Great Wall of China—Ulay in the Gobi desert and Abramović from the Yellow Sea. Upon meeting in the center after trekking more than 1,500 miles each, the pair silently bade each other farewell.



5. The Artist is Present, 2010
In 2010, at Abramović’s career retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Ulay showed up as a surprise and took part in Abramović’s performance, sitting silently opposite her and only shared eye contact. Both grew teary as the clock ticked. It was a heartfelt—but short—reunion of the former lovers that will be remembered forever.




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