What Just Happened? The Björk Experience at MoMA (Hyperallergic)

by E. Wouk Almino, J. Steinhauer, B. Sutton on March 3, 2015 original article here.

Alexander McQueen, Bell Dress (2004) and Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, aka Shoplifter, 'Medúlla' hair piece (2004) (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

Alexander McQueen, Bell Dress (2004) and Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, aka Shoplifter, ‘Medúlla’ hair piece (2004) (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

This morning, three Hyperallergic editors — Elisa Wouk Almino, Jillian Steinhauer, and Benjamin Sutton — ventured out to see the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) latest foray into avant-garde pop star curating: Björk (an exhibition that needs no subtitle). The show consists of a number of scattered components: instruments used in the making of Biophilia (her 8th album), on view in the lobby; two custom-built boxes/theaters that show, respectively, the new MoMA-commissioned video for “Black Lake” and a looping retrospective of her music videos; and an installation called “Songlines,” which features dresses, props from videos, and notebooks in a maze-like series of rooms, accompanied by a 40-minute “experimental sound experience” called “The Triumphs of a Heart” that mixes Björk’s music and a fictional fairy tale.

None of us editors was very familiar with Björk before (Hrag, who is the Björk fan among us, couldn’t make it). It’s unclear how familiar we are with her now. Here, a discussion of the show.

From left to right: Bernhard Willhelm, 'Volta' Tour Dress, The Icelandic Love Corporation, Second Skin (2004) and Wild Woman Voodoo Granny Doll Crochet (2007/15) (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

From left to right: Bernhard Willhelm, ‘Volta’ Tour Dress, The Icelandic Love Corporation, Second Skin (2004) and Wild Woman Voodoo Granny Doll Crochet (2007/15) (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

Jillian Steinhauer: WELL, that was interesting. Do we start with the good or the bad? How about both? The good, for me: I left more into Björk as a musician than I’ve ever been before! The bad: holy hagiography.

Elisa Wouk Almino: The good: I got to see Björk in person dressed as a cactus. (She was there for three minutes, partially visible behind lots of journalists.) The bad: I think my headset told me that to feel like an underwater jellyfish is to experience a higher mode of being.

Benjamin Sutton: For me, the only good part was the exhibition’s lower level, where we got to watch her music videos. The bad: everything else. That being said, there were a couple of objects upstairs, in the “Björk: The Ride” portion of the show, that I really liked. What were some of your favorite future Hard Rock Café artifacts from the show?

Some of Bjork's notebooks in the "Songlines" portion of the exhibition (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

Some of Björk’s notebooks in the “Songlines” portion of the exhibition (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

JS: I think you mean “Björk: The Experience.” (Sorry, readers, it’s actually called “Songlines.”) And honestly, I had trouble concentrating on any of them because I was so distracted by the horrible audio droning on in my ears: “You have been given a heart, which rests on your chest”; “The girl’s body had become home to a new heart — a tiny baby’s girl’s heart.” I was disheartened to learn that the script was penned by an actual writer named Sjón.

I suppose I liked seeing her notebooks and handwriting. The dresses were cool, but I just don’t have strong feelings about crazy designer dresses.

EWA: Yeah, in some ways I was more surprised by the mannequin Björk heads than the elaborate dresses themselves. And based on those notebooks that sound like the utterances of an angsty teenager (some of them do, actually, date to her childhood), I would think Björk wrote the script. That being said, the notebooks are one of the few items that revealed something about her work process.

Iris van Herpen, 'Biophilia' Dress (2011) (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

Iris van Herpen, ‘Biophilia’ Dress (2011) (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

BS: Agreed. That lack of anything even remotely informative about her work and creative process is what, for me, made it not just an underwhelming exhibition, but a seriously bad one. I think her videos and the collaborations she’s done with artists and designers — everyone from her former partner Matthew Barney and the Dutch duo Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin to Alexander McQueen and Marjan Pejoski — are worthy fodder for a museum show, but this one is so conceptually compromised and flimsily assembled that I spent most of today’s preview in disbelief that I was actually at MoMA.

JS: This is probably just me being me, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a bit of sexism at work here. I feel like if this were a show celebrating a male musician, we’d get more than just dresses and music videos — which, although they look awesome on a big screen in a comfy makeshift theater, are, after all, available to watch at home on your computer. Did either of your learn anything today that you didn’t already know about Björk?

EWA: I learned, thanks to the “Black Lake” video, that Björk has a deep connection with rocks.

JS: Ha!

EWA: I do honestly think she takes her love of rocks seriously.

Installation view, 'Björk' at MoMA (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

Installation view, ‘Björk’ at MoMA (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

BS: I dunno, I learned that Björk probably drives a Volkswagen now — at least I hope she does, in light of how heavily VW-branded this show is. (The “innovative technology” for “Songlines” is based on an app developed by Volkswagen.) As far as the sexism question, Jillian, I don’t know. I haven’t seen an equivalent exhibition devoted to a male musician. I guess we’ll have to wait for the inevitable Beck retrospective.

JS: I didn’t see the David Bowie retrospective, but it seemed to suffer from similar problems, so that would perhaps be a useful comparison. I feel like this gets at the question of how to present these types of artists in a museum setting. I agree that Björk seems worthy of a show, but it seemed like MoMA had no idea what to do with her or how to create one to emphasize her actual artistry. So they went for spectacle.

EWA: We did have to stand in three different lines for puzzlingly long amounts of time. One line that was somewhat worth the wait was for the new video MoMA commissioned, “Black Lake” — the visuals were actually quite stunning.

Björk, still from "Black Lake"

till from Björk’s and director Andrew Thomas Huang’s “Black Lake” video (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

 

JS: Agreed. I think “Black Lake” drove home for me that Björk’s best medium is the music video. It made me wish the show was more intensely focused on that aspect of her work, on breaking down how those get made, especially since they seem so collaborative.

BS: Yeah, “Black Lake” was beautiful, but even that was overwrought. The architectural installation — by The Living — seemed superfluous and incredibly inconsiderate. Like curator Klaus Biesenbach and Björk decided: “Let’s cover the walls with soft, plush things, then make people sit on the floor!” [Maniacal laughter.] And the video plays simultaneously on two screens on either side of the room in some feeble attempt at creating an “immersive” experience. Why not just have one screen and more of those cushioned red cubes from the adjacent music video theater?

Instruments for 'Biophilia': Björgvin Tómasson and Matt Nolan's Gameleste and Björgvin Tómasson's Pipe Organ

nstruments for ‘Biophilia’: Björgvin Tómasson and Matt Nolan’s Gameleste and Björgvin Tómasson’s Pipe Organ (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

JS: I don’t know, I didn’t mind the floor so much — at least we were allowed to sit. Can I just mention that I thought the instruments in the lobby were super cool, probably my favorite part? Although I was disappointed to miss the Tesla coil — the wall text said it was there, but I couldn’t find it.

EWA: Yeah, I don’t think there was substantial enough wall text throughout. I’m all for an exhibition that privileges experience over information, but I think some context would have made the show less fragmentary and confusing.

BS: Maybe, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, that’s why we were all so intensely disappointed by the exhibition: we were expecting an exhibition. Had we shown up to preview “The Tunnel of Björk” — and had said tunnel flowed a little more smoothly — we would have liked it?

JS: But if we wanted “The Tunnel of Björk,” wouldn’t we have gone to alterna–Walt Disney World?

BS: That’s exactly where we went.

Shaun Leane, Feather Ear Pieces (2003/15) (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

Shaun Leane, Feather Ear Pieces (2003/15) (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

 

Alexander McQueen, "Pagan Poetry" Dress (2001), and Matthew Barney, 'Verspertine' Music Box (2001) and 'Vespertine Live' Shoes (2001) (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

Alexander McQueen, “Pagan Poetry” Dress (2001), and Matthew Barney, ‘Verspertine’ Music Box (2001) and ‘Vespertine Live’ Shoes (2001) (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

 

Chris Cunningham, "All Is Full of Love" Robots (1999) (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

Chris Cunningham, “All Is Full of Love” Robots (1999) (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

 

Detail of one of Chris Cunningham's "All Is Full of Love" Robots (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

Detail of one of Chris Cunningham’s “All Is Full of Love” Robots (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

 

Coat from "Jóga" Music Video (1997) (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

Coat from “Jóga” Music Video (1997) (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

 

Bernhard Willhelm, Body Sculpture (2007) (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

Bernhard Willhelm, Body Sculpture (2007) (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

 

Björk ephemera and photos (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

Björk ephemera and photos (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

 

Val Gardland, Crystal Mask

Val Garland, Crystal Mask (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

 

Installation view, the "Songlines" portion of Björk at MoMA (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

Installation view, the “Songlines” portion of Björk at MoMA (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

 

Sean Hellfritsch and Isaiah Saxon, "Wanderlust" Painbody Head, Costume, and Yak (2007)

Sean Hellfritsch and Isaiah Saxon, “Wanderlust” Painbody Head, Costume, and Yak (2007) (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

 

The entrance to "Songlines" (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

The entrance to “Songlines” (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

 

The music video room (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

The music video room (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

 

A view of Andrew Cavatorta's Gravity Harps (2011), used on Björk's album 'Biophilia,' in the MoMA lobby (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

A view of Andrew Cavatorta’s Gravity Harps (2011), used on Björk’s album ‘Biophilia,’ in the MoMA lobby (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

 

Björk's and director Stephane Sednaoui's "Big Time Gravity" video (1993), projected on a large wall at MoMA

Björk’s and director Stephane Sednaoui’s “Big Time Sensuality” video (1993), projected on a large wall at MoMA (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

 

Björk will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art (11 W 53rd St, Midtown East, Manhattan) from March 8 through June 7.

 

 

Copy Makes Perfect: Sturtevant at MoMA (Hyperallergic)

by Cynthia Cruz on February 11, 2015 original article here.

Installation view of 'Sturtevant: Double Trouble' at the Museum of Modern Art (© 2014 The Museum of Modern Art; photo by Thomas Griesel; all works by Sturtevant © Estate Sturtevant, Paris)

Installation view of ‘Sturtevant: Double Trouble’ at the Museum of Modern Art (© 2014 The Museum of Modern Art; photo by Thomas Griesel; all works by Sturtevant © Estate Sturtevant, Paris)

 

The concepts of appropriation and replication were on the lips of many presenters at the College Art Association (CAA) conference this year. In light of the buzz on this topic, I thought this article would be appropriate.

Repetition is displacement, repetition is difference; repetition is pushing the limits of resemblance and limitation — it has some other factors or dynamics. So it’s not like saying you repeat. For instance, Andy Warhol repeated, but he did not do repetition … But repetition has nothing to do with repeating. —Sturtevant

The multiplication of things under an absolutely identical concept has as its consequence the division of the concept into absolutely identical things. —Gilles Deleuze

The Museum of Modern Art’s current retrospective of Sturtevant’s work, Double Trouble, is a study in movement. Along with her many near-replications of other artists’ work (including takes on Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Félix Gonzalez-Torres, and Joseph Beuys) it features her more recent video works. These videos — “Finite Infinite” (2010), a corridor-long projection of a dog running; “Dillinger Running Series” (2000), in which Sturtevant-as-Beuys races along the wall to a pounding beat; and “Pacman” (2012), featuring footage of the eponymous game, with Pac-Man racing after and consuming dots and fruits — each introduce elements of a pervasive theme that relates to racing, consuming, and being consumed. Juxtaposed with her “copy” pieces, these videos shed light on her work: Sturtevant’s practice consumes pieces by other artists as she races ahead, making herself invisible behind the work of others in order to avoid being consumed in turn.

Installation view of ‘Sturtevant: Double Trouble’ at the Museum of Modern Art (© 2014 The Museum of Modern Art; photo by Thomas Griesel; all works by Sturtevant © Estate Sturtevant, Paris)

 

She is, of course, not actually invisible. She exists in the space between the original work and the copy. In this way, she stays ahead of the game. And it is in this space, this trace, that Sturtevant’s genius exists. In Of Grammatology, Derrida describes trace as the difference between two signs. For example, the meaning of woman will always have the shadow of man behind it. The space between is the trace. It is the “mark of the absence of a presence, an always-already absent present.”

In an interview with SUNY Purchase art history professors Bruce Hainley and Michael Lobel printed in the MoMA catalogue, Sturtevant says that she read Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition in its original in French in Ibiza with the assistance of a French-English dictionary. Years later, when the book was translated into English, Sturtevant reread the book, which, as one might imagine, was an entirely different text from the one she read in 1968 when it was first published. Deleuze’s central idea is that when, for example, Marcel Duchamp makes a copy of a urinal, the new copy is the event; it is no longer about the (so-called) original copy. This concept infers a sense of movement, the movement from so-called copy to copy, and it is in this movement of copying that Sturtevant’s artwork occurs.

Sturtevant’s work is often confused for an act of “appropriation” and consequently taken as a gesture of anger directed at the male artists whose work she “appropriates.” It is revealing to contrast this with the work of male artists deemed “appropriation artists,” like Richard Prince or even Andy Warhol, neither of whom has been construed as angry or even political. As a result, her work is often dismissed as an affront. One example is a review by Vincent Noce in the French newspaper Libération of Sturtevant’s 2010 exhibition, The Razzle Dazzle of Thinking, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Noce writes:

A pioneer of the “appropriationist” trend, the artist asserts facsimile as artistic process. She confuses replicating with copying, which are two distinct notions: a replica is realized by the artist him- or herself. In music or literature, such a debate would be unimaginable: a plagiarist who reproduced a score note for note, or a book word for word, and then affixed his or her name to it would be covered in shame. But in the visual arts, legitimacy is acquired through obscurity of discourse. What is fundamentally at stake is aesthetics. One must see these copies to realize just how ugly they are: crudely made, with mediocre materials, gloomy colors, all the life having run out of them. Parody is a gesture that might have had meaning in the 1960s. But just as spluttering does not make a story, posturing does not make art, and imposture even less.

Sturtevant, "Study for Muybridge Plate #97: Woman Walking" (1966) (Glenstone; photo by Alex Jamison; © Estate Sturtevant, Paris)

Sturtevant, “Study for Muybridge Plate #97: Woman Walking” (1966) (Glenstone; photo by Alex Jamison; © Estate Sturtevant, Paris)

To confine Sturtevant’s work to “appropriation” art is to miss the beauty and the genius of it. At MoMA we are helped by interviews in which she speaks frankly about her impulse and what drives her. Discussing Duchamp, Warhol, and Deleuze, she returns over and over to the theme of repetition. Repetition as the guiding force; appropriation as the means by which to make repetition. Compulsive repetition does several things. For one, it negates: when an image is repeated, the second iteration erases the first. In other words, the second replaces the first — the first is negated. Say the same word over and over and the word will eventually lose meaning. This is what Sturtevant means when she proclaims, in the introduction to the Double Trouble catalogue, “I wanted to make an artwork that could disappear.” The same can be said for the artist.

Installation view of 'Sturtevant: Double Trouble' at the Museum of Modern Art (© 2014 The Museum of Modern Art; photo by Thomas Griesel; all works by Sturtevant © Estate Sturtevant, Paris)

Installation view of ‘Sturtevant: Double Trouble’ at the Museum of Modern Art (© 2014 The Museum of Modern Art; photo by Thomas Griesel; all works by Sturtevant © Estate Sturtevant, Paris)

By repeatedly taking on the roles of other artists and making work that replicates their work, Sturtevant vanishes, in essence, into the background. But so do the artists she imitates, whose “originals” are consumed by her “copies.” In interviews, she has stated that she does not want biographical information included in relation to her work. Biographical information overshadows the work, she said, and then people wont look at the work. In order for her work to work, she needs to vanish.

sturtevant_moma_in2304_09_cc

Installation view of ‘Sturtevant: Double Trouble’ at the Museum of Modern Art (© 2014 The Museum of Modern Art; photo by Thomas Griesel; all works by Sturtevant © Estate Sturtevant, Paris)