Marina Abramovic manipulating her exposed bosom and forcing us to watch in "Balkan Erotic Epic: Exterior Part 1 (B)” is a degrading assault on the viewer, not art. There are those who believe it’s art, however. For them, art is not judged based on its formal qualities, it’s graded based on intensity of expression. According to their view, conviction matters more than both medium and message.
In the past, Abramovic has attempted a performance in which she cut a pentagram into her stomach, whipped herself, and laid on a cruciform block of ice until she was forcibly evacuated to a hospital six hours later. In another, she laid passively next to instruments of varying degrees of violence (including a loaded gun) and encouraged viewers to assault her with them.
Her performances might best be described as masochistic. But while the value, meaning, and virtue of Marina’s performances are subject to debate, her devotion to her work is largely indisputable. To those whose only requirement for art is that it is deeply expressive, Abramovic’s work clearly qualifies and other criteria can be overlooked.
New Yorker article (behind a paywall) via Abby Haddican: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/03/08/100308fa_fact_thurman