Artist Who Performed Nude Sues Museum Over Sexual Assault Claims

albany, new york — A performer who appeared naked in a show by world-renowned performance artist Marina Abramovic at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art is suing the museum, saying it failed to take action after he was sexually assaulted multiple times by attendees during the performances nearly 14 years ago. 

The suit was filed in Manhattan on Monday under the New York Adult Survivors Act, a special state law that created a yearslong suspension of the usual time limit for accusers to sue. Although the law expired last year, the suit says the parties agreed to extend the window closing. 

John Bonafede alleges in the suit he was sexually assaulted by five public onlookers who attended a show he was hired by the museum to perform in as part of Abramovic’s retrospective “The Artist Is Present.” 

Email messages sent to the museum this week were not returned. Abramovic is not named as a defendant and did not immediately return a request for comment. 

The work, titled “Imponderabilia,” saw Bonafede and another performer standing face-to-face with each other in a doorway about 18 inches (45.7 centimeters) apart, fully nude, silent, and still. The exhibition, which ran from March 14, 2010, through May 31, 2010, was curated by the museum in a way that encouraged visitors to pass in between the performers as they went from one gallery to the next, the suit alleges. 

Mostly older men involved, says suit

The people who assaulted Bonafede were mostly older men, the suit says. One of the perpetrators was a corporate member of the museum, who was ultimately kicked out and revoked of his membership, according to the suit. 

During the final weeks of the exhibition, another attendee non-consensually groped Bonafede’s private areas three times before they were finally stopped by security, the suit said. 

Bonafede reported four of the individuals to the museum staff and security immediately, according to the suit, while the fifth was witnessed personally by the museum security staff. 

Female performer also assaulted, suit says

At one point, Bonafede also witnessed a public attendee sexually assault his female co-performer by kissing her on the mouth without her consent, the suit said. 

Prior to the exhibition, the performers had voiced their concerns about nude performers being subject to harassment in a letter to the museum during contract negotiations, the suit said. 

Once it began, several news outlets including The New York Times reported on the inappropriate behavior by visitors, and the sexual assaults on “Imponderabilia” were discussed within New York City’s art and performance communities, the suit says. 

Despite the museum having knowledge of the issue, it failed to take action to protect the performers and prevent further sexual assaults, such as telling visitors ahead of time that touching was not allowed, the lawsuit said. 

About a month into the exhibition, the museum created a handbook outlining protocols for the performers to alert museum staff if they felt unsafe or were inappropriately touched. 

Bonafede agreed to continue the performance after he was assaulted because of the “tough it out” culture of the exhibition, the suit says, but suffered for years from emotional distress, and his mental health, body image and career were damaged as a result. 

The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly. Bonafede gave consent through his lawyer, Jordan Fletcher. 

Fletcher declined to comment further on the suit, but said they will be seeking a jury trial and compensatory damages. 

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