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After 700 hours, performance artist finishes her work

By Cassie Spodak, CNN
Almost every day for three months, Marina Abramovic sat on a wooden chair.
Almost every day for three months, Marina Abramovic sat on a wooden chair.

New York (CNN) -- Almost every day for three months, Marina Abramovic sat on a wooden chair, staring at strangers at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. And that was art.

Abramovic ended her 700 hour-long performance piece Monday evening much the way she started it -- by silently sitting in a chair. Thunderous applause greeted her as she knelt on the ground in the puddle of her long white dress, her dark braided hair framing her face.

Since March 14, Abramovic had been the main actor in the performance piece; Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present.

From the opening to the closing of MoMA every day, Abramovic sat in a chair opposite strangers intent on participating in her performance art. Hundreds of visitors waited in line to sit across from her; some only sat a few minutes, some the whole day.

In all, more than 1,500 people sat across from Abramovic, curator Klaus Biesenbach told CNN.

He told CNN the piece brought MoMA back to what a museum should be: "a real intimate, very close, revealing, very special experience ... with the art."

Biesenbach said, "It is such a direct experience that we invented the museum, I think, again as a place where you are really one to one contemplating with the art."

Video: 700 hours of sitting ends

The exhibit also included a retrospective of Abramovic's work "re-performed" by specially trained performers as well as sound pieces, video works, installations, and photography.

Monika Bravo, an artist who lives in Manhattan, waited unsuccessfully twice, for four hours, before she was able to sit with Abramovic on her third try.

"I wanted to be part of the piece," Bravo said. "You lose track of time, though you're just sitting."

Bravo was not alone. A spokeswoman for MoMA told CNN more than a half million visitors have seen the exhibit.

Participants ranged from actress Sharon Stone and former CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour to singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright and Paco Blancas, a New York-based make up artist who sat across from Abramovic 21 times. Blancas reached his own kind of mini-celebrity, with other visitors recognizing him waiting in line.

Visitors seemed transfixed by Abramovic. Whether she was blowing her nose, or closing her eyes and lowering her head in the break between sitters, visitors lined the rope separating them from the large square space where she sat, and stared.

If the goal of the piece was to involve the audience in her art, Abramovic succeeded. On the last day, visitors packed into the atrium and leaned over balconies on all three floors above her.

Their intensity, however, matched her own. In the last hour, when a new sitter faced her, Abramovic lifted her head and leaned forward, examining the face of her new visitor.

Biesenbach told CNN that many of Abramovic's pieces are only completed by the audience, and in this piece Abramovic wanted direct contact with the audience.

The people across from her -- men and women, young and old -- cried, smiled, sat, and stared as they basked in the shared spotlight.

"You have hundreds of people here for hours and they look at basically nothing happening," Biesenbach said. "There's nothing happening in the middle. So everybody shares that moment."

In a video on MoMA's website, Abramovic describes her approach to performance art. Although it is clear that she is the key component in her own piece, she acknowledges that the success of her piece does not rest with her.

"The work is done for the audience," she says. "Without the audience, the work doesn't exist. It doesn't have any meaning."