February 1, 2010
Doing art with Tino Sehgal at the Guggenheim
This weekend, a new exhibit opened at the Guggenheim by German conceptual artist Tino Sehgal. I saw the feature the Times did on him recently, and some of the details about his work (he never uses materials other than human beings, has no written contracts but sells his work to museums and, bizarrely, private collectors, he doesn't fly or use a cellphone) made him sound like some combination of exacting performance-art auteur and high-concept weirdo.
So I went to the show. There are other reviews out there (NY Times, WNYC) that describe in detail the experience of being at the exhibit, but I don't want to give away too much here. I didn't know what was going to happen when I went into it, and I think it's better that way. I'll just say that there is no art at all on the walls of the rotunda, and you experience the piece, called "This Progress", by walking up the long ramp of the museum where you encounter various people.
As the WNYC reviewer says (after making a Jersey Shore joke about the "situations" that the artist calls his pieces,) trying to talk about this exhibit is like "trying to reconstruct a particularly intense dinner party conversation: It was fascinating while it happened, but on the retelling can seem trite and pretentious." Interacting with the people that make up the exhibit was like being seated next to someone really friendly and interesting on a plane--you don't really know the person you're talking to and you'll almost definitely never talk to them again, but during the time you're together, you can get into some pretty cool stuff.
But what the exhibit really made me think of is those artists who surreptitiously install their own pieces in museum galleries, guerrilla-style--like Banksy or the guy at the Brooklyn Museum last year. If you can expose the arbitrary nature of what art gets into museums and what art doesn't just by hanging your painting in the Met for a few hours before it gets noticed and removed, couldn't you do the same thing in an experiential, interactive exhibit like this one?
I hope some enterprising young artists decide to go into one of those little recessed gallery areas in the Guggenheim rotunda and become another art installation by ironing some pants or jumping rope or eating Wheat Thins. You could easily circumvent the real installation by striking up a conversation with a museum-goer and talking about your cats or Boggle or one time you threw up in your brother's Darth Vader mask. It would probably be the easiest way to get your own art into a world-famous museum, and, actually, Tino Sehgal would probably love it.
Actually, the first time I started walking up the rotunda ramp, I somehow didn't get properly engaged in the interactive part of the exhibit, so my companion and I went all the way to the top with having an actual art experience, except for watching the people around us who seemed to be having a better time than we were. At the top, an older gentleman started talking to me, claiming he was a critic and not part of the exhibit. He urged me to go back to the beginning and try again, but then started talking about being open to life and experience and how one could find progress by being open to confusion, and I still can't figure out if he was part of the exhibit or just into dispensing advice in the form of rambling non-sequitur.
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