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Richard Day: Cold in Minnesota, and in the Hearts of Men
When you enter the Guggenheim from now until January 7th, the first thing you will notice is a blindingly gaudy marquee seemingly hung over the entrance by glowing blue chains. Frank Lloyd Wright was not available for comment at the time this article was written, but there were reports of muffled banging heard in the vicinity of his gravesite. The marquee was designed by artist Philippe Parreno. It's a fitting introduction to the Guggenheim's new exhibition, theanyspacewhatever, for three reasons:
The exhibition consists of a series of works by ten artists, who pointedly describe themselves not as "colleagues" but "friends." The title, theanyspacewhatever, is taken from a phrase which was coined by French anthropologist, Pascal Augé, and repackaged by postmodern French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze. As described in the press materials:
...the term "any-space-whatever" is used by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze to describe a cinematic trope of essential heterogeneity--a "singular space" in the film defined by multiple perspectives in which linkages among constituent parts may be made in an infinite number of ways. Therefore, the "any-space-whatever" is a filmic realm that represents a "locus of the possible." In its application as an exhibition title, the term suggests the idea of a coherent space comprising multiple and shifting views that nevertheless coalesce to invoke the idea of pure potentiality.
Got it? I'll try to help you unpack that. "Any space whatever" is a translation of "espace quelconque." Some things just sound better in French. When Pascal Augé coined the phrase, he meant,
...a space such as a metro stop, a doctor's waiting room, or an airport terminal. It is an anonymous space people pass through...a point of transit between places of 'importance', such as the metro, which is merely the space one passes through between home and work.
Deleuze appropriated the term and applied it to modern cinema in which a standard narrative is eschewed in favor of seemingly unconnected events and cinematic moments, as in films by Michelangelo Antonioni. These unconnected moments, severed from time and space, were to Deleuze opportunities for viewers to insert their own subjective ideas to bind the moments, that is to say the "any spaces whatever," into a meaningful, coherent whole.
Thus, the works exhibited by the artists are not meant to relate to one another in obvious or conventional ways. They are meant to provoke the visitors to insert their own ideas into the "moments" in such a way that they comprise a subjectively meaningful whole. Kind of like Mad Libs.
But Mad Libs is a lot more fun because it invites the insertion scatological references which are inherently funny, at least when you're 10. More specifically, the works in this exhibition are so disparate, thematically and--because the Guggenheim is too large for the limited content--geographically, that it fails to provoke its audience, or at least failed provoke me, to bother trying to connect them. Which is a shame because what the Guggenheim is great for, indeed what it was designed for, is linear continuity.
In any case, you have three options for exploring the exhibition:
I recommend the script-reading guide who will at least offer you information that you can make sense of. Or if you like, you can follow my brief synopsis of what was presented to me by my script-reading guide, along with few tidbits from my research.
Starting at the top...
Angela Bulloch built an L.E.D. powered "night sky" into the museum's oculus to "play with time and space," turning the building into a re-creation of a Roman pantheon, or at least what a Roman pantheon might have been like if it had had a hole in the roof and if the stars visible through the hole had resembled L.E.D.'s. Alternatively, you might see a bunch of lights against a black background that appear vaguely star-like. (Update: I've been informed by a commenter that the Roman Pantheon does have a hole in it. My bad.)
Carsten Holler created a "fully-functioning hotel room" (the guest suite at the pantheon), complete with minibar and other accouterments. The hotel room is distinguished by the fact that the bed and other large pieces of furniture rotate slowly on large glass discs, giving new meaning to the term, "bed spins." The gimmick is that you can actually rent the room for a night, from $259 for students on Mondays to $799 on holiday weekends. Checkout time is 8 a.m. No pets. The guide assured me that the security camera over the bed would be turned off. But if you really want to do the wild thing in a giant, slightly creepy, exquisitely architected cavern (with colorful L.E.D. stars), you're S.O.L. No vacancies.
Rirkrit Tiravanija's Cinema Liberté projects films that have been banned in various countries. No popcorn, but there is an expresso bar. Tiravanija was described is a "generous" artist. In a previous installation, he cooked for his visitors. If you enjoy watching pretentious artists bloviate about the significance of their art, Tiravanija has also generously created a feature length documentary in which the participating artists are interviewed about their work. You can watch the documentary further down in the exhibition, seated on a pillow on a buddhist-monk-orange carpet. It's free.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's shielded off a section of the Guggenheim's uninterrupted balcony to create a corridor and "tropicalized" the space by projecting sounds from audio speakers which, to my untropically-trained ear, sounded like white noise. The work, Promenade, was inspired by a busy street in Tokyo which is temporarily closed to traffic on weekends and becomes unusually quiet. Unfortunately, the shields and white noise do little block the ambient sounds, so rather than transporting you to the remote tropics, Promenade transports you to a dull, white corridor in the middle of the Guggenheim. (Update: Moment Ginza,
Jorge Pardo interrupts your journey with a series of cardboard screens that force you on a winding path. This exhibit is interesting in that it successfully slows your pace dramatically. That's great if you're trying to kill time while your companion sits through the documentary, not so great if you just want to get to the end. Unfortunately, the screens are not particularly enthralling. A series of crab-shaped lamps that vaguely resemble the plastic primates of the Barrel of Monkeys game are interesting but quickly become monotonous. You can stop to peruse the Journal officiel de la République Française, the official gazette of the French government, or marvel at the "hilarious" ingenuity of a poster with the words, "I went to the Guggenheim museum and all I got was this Richard print."
Throughout the exhibition, you will see many "unsettling phrases" by Douglas Gordon on the walls. A few examples:
All these quotes, by the way, have been used in Gordon's previous works, many of which were Bart-Simpson-style prank phone calls and letters. In that context, they would have been entertaining. On the walls of the Guggenheim...meh. That's "any space whatever" for you. On Halloween, Gordon will also present the movie Pscyho slowed down so that the whole film takes 24 hours. No intermission. My advice: try to time it for the shower scene. Gordon has done the Psycho piece before too, by the way. I suppose that if you call your work a "retrospective," you can get away with recycling old material. I wonder if the other artists are pissed.
Finally, two works that I genuinely appreciated. Liam Gillick hung a number of elegant aluminum signs which appear forward and backward, depending on which way you're looking, from the ceiling throughout the exhibition. Some of them present esoteric gibberish, e.g. "Disintermediate Now." Others are practical, e.g. "This way," "Halfway," "Unisex Bathroom," and my favorite, "Complete." Gillick also designed the aesthetically interesting S-shaped benches that pervade the exhibition and complement the curvature of the space.
And finally, best in show by "prankster and provocateur," Maurizio Cattelan. At the bottom of the exhibit, a larger than life Pinocchio figure floats face down in a small pool. This one finally succeeds in provocation. Did the late puppet hit Holler's mini-bar too hard and tumble drunkenly off the balcony? Or maybe Gordon's teasing sent him into suicidal despair. Perhaps he tried to run past Pardo's cardboard screens too quickly and catapulted over the edge. Or maybe he smoked Brazilian ayahuasca in Gonzalez-Foerster's "tropicalized" promenade and decided to fly. Murdered by Roman assassins in Bulloch's pantheon? Hit his head on one of Gillick's signs? Allergic reaction to Tiravanija's expresso? Who am I missing? Oh yes, Parreno's blank marquee. It's the set of Pinocchio 5: The Reckoning. There, I did it. What do I win?
P.S. Careful (or compulsive) readers will note that I only mentioned nine artists. Pierre Huyghe created a booklet about the exhibition, a copy of which I glanced at fleetingly and tried to take home for careful inspection until a security guard informed that I must replace it on the stack but could buy one in the gift shop. I guess that Huyghe isn't a "generous" artist.