Monday, January 10, 2011

Tino Sehgal

One very positive consequence of blogging is learning a lot from blogs that I read. And while having been mostly stuck in Bergen, Norway the last ten years, I have missed out on quite a bit. For instance: Tino Sehgal.

David M. Heald © SRGF, New York. (the village VOICE)

This (illicit!) photo (replaced by a photo of the Guggenheim rotunda) shows his living sculpture "Kiss", in which dancers were hired to execute a very slowly evolving embrace that lasted throughout the museum's opening hours, every day for a month and a half. The work is owned by the Museum of Modern Art and was loaned to the Guggenheim as part of its 50th Anniversary celebrations early last year. But there exists no official photographic documentation of "Kiss" or of this particular effectuation of it, and as an attempt to counteract the material commodification of artworks, Sehgal sells his works exclusively by oral agreement, without any written contracts. (For critical comments about this strategy see: ARTslanT and Escape Into Life.)

While this and one other work by Sehgal were shown, the Guggenheim rotunda was empty for the fist time since it opened to the public 51 years ago (there were no other artworks to be seen), and the photo gives a good impression of Frank Lloyd Wright's beautiful architecture (which I mentioned in a recent post about Felix Gonzalez-Torres). Sehgal's work not only thrives from being shown at the Guggenheim like Gonzalez-Torres's did in 1995, the second work by Sehgal that was shown there last year requires participation from the audience in a similar way as Gonzalez-Torres's work does.

That second work is titled "This Progress", and exists only as individual conversations with the audience. Actors of different ages (a child at the bottom and a person in late middle age at the top) accompany visitors on their way up the spiraling rotunda while engaging them in conversations about progress. I would have loved to try this out myself and to describe my experience here, but since I have not had the chance to take part in "This Progress", I will rely on Holland Cotter's story from The New York Times:

It begins when you walk a short way up the rotunda ramp. A child comes over to greet you. My greeter, a girl of 9 or 10, introduced herself as Giuliana and stated matter-of-factly, “This is a piece by Tino Sehgal.” She invited me to follow her and asked if she could ask me a question. “What is progress?” I gave a broad answer, then at her request, a clarifying example. We went further up the ramp.

Soon we were joined by a young man, a teenager, who said his name was Will. Giuliana carefully and accurately paraphrased for him my response to her question and slipped away. I walked on with Will, who commented on my comments on progress, which prompted me to try to refine my initial thoughts.

About halfway up the rotunda, Will was replaced by Tom, whom I took to be in his mid-30s and who introduced a new topic.

He had read a scientific report that morning saying that dinosaurs, long envisioned as drab-gray and green, might have been brightly colored, even gaudily striped. We had both, we said, been fascinated by dinosaurs as kids, as was his young son today. And now everyone would have to reimagine them, though artists already had done that. So Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” turns out to be natural history. Art beats science to the punch.

As we neared the last stretch of the ramp, Tom handed me over to Bob, who was, like me, in late middle age and who broached another topic. He had just returned from Bulgaria where he had talked with a range of people over 20 about their feelings about the state of their country and lives. He found, he said, a pervasive nostalgia for life under Communism, a yearning for a society that promised to take care of everyone.

The Guggenheim Museum says about this requirement for the audience to participate that "a visitor is no longer only a passive spectator, but one who bears a responsibility to shape and at times to even contribute to the actual realization of the piece".

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