Cao Fei’s First Solo US Museum Show Channels a Dystopic Future China (artnet news)

Cao Fei, Still from Haze and Fog.Photo: Courtesy of MoMA.

Cao Fei, Still from Haze and Fog. Courtesy of MoMA.

 

Cao Fei, La Town: White Street (2014).Photo: Courtesy of MoMA PS1.

Cao Fei, La Town: White Street (2014). Photo: Courtesy of MoMA PS1.

Cao Fei has seen the future of China and it looks like Detroit—after a Hollywood zombie apocalypse. That’s certainly the impression one receives on entering the 38-old artist’s eponymously titled exhibition at MoMA PS1. In this, her first US museum solo outing, she presents several roomfuls of dystopic scenarios that include alienated teens, utopian musings, digital escapism, and post-apocalyptic clichés.

Hailed as among the most innovative Chinese artists working today, Cao has made video and digital technology her media of choice in exploring the lives of China’s citizens—especially its young citizens—as they struggle with raised expectations, falling economic growth rates, and a repressive society that censors the press and the Internet. In Cao’s still and moving image works, her country’s messy prospects are characteristically seen through the prism of China’s 13-to-35-year-old demographic. Unfortunately, global youth culture is just as conservative in the East as it is in the West.

Born in Guangzhou, also known as the “world’s factory,” Cao has experienced China’s economic boom first hand as well as the topsy-turvy paradoxes brought by one party laissez-faire capitalism. Among these is the absurdity of life in a city like Guangzhou, where Zaha Hadid’s futuristic opera house rises and whose pollution has been likened to a nuclear winter. If there is a place that symbolizes China’s dangerous contradictions, it’s Cao’s hometown; in turn, this fact gives the artist’s predictions of a coming Asian rust belt both their bite and urgency.

Cao Fei, Cosplayers Series: A Ming at Home (2004). Image: Courtesy of artist and Vitamin Creative Space.

Cao Fei, Cosplayers Series: A Ming at Home (2004). Image: Courtesy of artist and Vitamin Creative Space.

Cao’s objects, C-prints, standalone videos, and film installations liberally mix together disparate cultural elements to comment on the roiling changes bedeviling Chinese society. Among the more frequently used tropes in her arsenal are Pop aesthetics, social commentary, digital animation, virtual reality, and an evolving preoccupation with youth subcultures. An artist seemingly addicted to the ideal of roleplaying, Fei uses her performances to embark on various analog and digital fantasies that star herself or others. As the artist told artnet News’s Kathleen Massara, she’s insistently in search of what she has termed “resistant power.”

Cao’s exhibition—tidily curated by Klaus Biesenbach, Director, MoMA PS1 and Chief Curator at Large, the Museum of Modern Art—is arrayed around eight rooms on the museum’s first floor and also occupies the VW sponsored dome in the museum’s courtyard. This last space contains an especially raucous multimedia installation: It’s constituent parts include a stage set, fake Chinatown signage, reproductions of hanging birds, musical instruments and the music video stylings of the NYC-based hip-hop group Notorious MSG, one of Cao’s more entertaining collaborators. (Cao held a performance with the hip-hop group this past Sunday.)

Cao Fei

Notorious MSG, with Cao Fei.

According to the museum literature, the band’s three core members currently work at restaurants in New York City’s Chinatown. Their song “Straight out of Canton” captures a great deal of the joy and some of the potential “resistance” Cao ascribes to the group’s all-immigrant appropriation of American hip-hop. However spunky and fun-filled, though, the irony of VW—a company that has admitted to massively evading global emission regulations—sponsoring this portion of the exhibition should be lost on no one.

If Cao’s early films from the 1990s and early 2000s—eight of which are arrayed in a circle on monitors in one of the show’s last room—consist of low-fi abject fictions involving mostly friends and fellow students from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, her ensuing projects feature a combination of social realist portraiture and escapist make-believe.

In 2004, for instance, Cao followed a tribe of Cosplayers around Guangzhou. In her photographs and videos a troupe of young adults lunge, thrust, and pose like American Civil War reenactors in full manga and anime costume. Like other global simulators in similar soul-killing locales—say, Brussels or Albany—they ritually refight their own Gettysburgs amid their city’s ubiquitous gray high-rises and concrete plazas.

Cao Fei, RMB City - A Second Life City Planning (2007).Photo: Courtesy of MoMA PS 1.

Cao Fei, RMB City – A Second Life City Planning (2007). Photo: Courtesy of MoMA PS 1.

A second project that goes all-in with a richly evasive Western subculture is the artist’s embrace of Second Life: Linden Lab’s formerly hot, now not virtual world that companies like Amazon, American Apparel, and Disney rushed to brand in the early 2000s (sales in that virtual universe peaked at $64 million in 2006). From 2007 to 2011, Fei purchased enough alt-real estate to build RMB City, a digital mashup of various global gothams she ghosts with China Tracy, her own Western-looking avatar.

In real life—or at least in the artist’s exhibition—the project is represented by a promotional video, white construction tools, and a broker’s reception desk. In the wall text, Cao describes the effects of her installation: “It’s perhaps no longer important to draw the line between the virtual and the real, as the border between the two has been blurred.” The reaction of hardline Chinese officials to this fanciful fairytale is easy to fathom: From Cao Fei’s mouth to Xi Jinping’s ears.

But not all of Cao’s elaborate artworks sound the same naïve fugitive note. In 2006, for instance, she took advantage of a residence in a Siemens lighting factory to juxtapose the daydreams of workers with their lives as they are actually lived inside a manufacturing plant. The ensuing project, Whose Utopia?, materializes these workers aspirations through photographs, a newspaper titled “Utopia Daily,” and a video by the same title. In Cao’s film a prima ballerina in wings and a fuzzy white halo dances amid shop machinery, an older gentleman slides silkily around the factory floor to Chinese pop music, and a young man acts out the dream of being a rock guitarist. Extravagant fantasies all, they are saved from mere amusement by one true thing. They are located inside a place of actual exploitation.

Cao Fei, My Future is Not a Dream No.2 (2006). Courtesy of Hara Museum of Contemporary Art. © Cao Fei / Deutsche Bank Collection.

Cao Fei, My Future is Not a Dream No.2 (2006). Courtesy of Hara Museum of Contemporary Art. © Cao Fei / Deutsche Bank Collection.

Cao’s most recent project, La Town, on the other hand, falls back on Hollywood boilerplate to depict the kind of post-apocalyptic imaginings that animate mass entertainment vehicles like HBOs The Walking Dead and MILFs Versus Zombies. The film, which opens Cao’s current survey, enlists 3D dioramas to present a Breugel-like portrait of civilization struck by an unspecified disaster. As such, it begs for something more specific, less generic, more critical and less dependent on Western clichés—including copycat subcultures—to convincingly make its dystopic point. Despite some inventiveness, the first US museum show by this fast-rising Chinese art star invites adult skepticism. Escapism is not resistance, and fantasy is not utopia.

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Greek Art Dealers Tell Us How to Run a Gallery in Athens On 60 Euros A Day (artnet news)

by Rozalia Jovanovic and Eileen Kinsella, Friday, July 10, 2015 original article here.

camhi_pic4

Rebecca Camhi. Photo: via Madame Figaro.

A little over a week ago at the Athens art gallery of Rebecca Camhi, a new client walked into the space and selected two works to purchase: one was a photograph by Nan Goldin and the other was a work by British artist Clare Woods. Soon after, Camhi called the client with a price quote: $14,000 for the Goldin, 15,000 pounds sterling for the Woods. It didn’t matter. The next day, June 29, the banks were shuttered and Camhi’s client disappeared.

“This literally broke the deal,” said Camhi. “She never got back to us.”

Even if she had wanted to buy the works, Camhi said, given the circumstances—holders of Greek bank cards continue to have a 60-euro daily limit on ATM withdrawals and restrictions on moving money abroad—proper transactions were all but impossible.

“Even if she deposited the money in our account,” said Camhi, “we wouldn’t be able to pay our artists abroad. Maybe later I would be able to, but who wants to take that risk?”

Opened in 1995, Camhi’s gallery is housed in a neoclassical structure in the hip downtown Athens neighborhood of Metaxourgeio. She represents important contemporary artists including Rita Ackermann, Karen Kilimnik, and Sean Landers. Like many art dealers in Athens, she’s feeling the effects of the most recent economic crisis that has befallen Greece, especially since June 29, when banks were shuttered and limits were placed on the amount of cash that Greeks were allowed to access.

Installation view of a show at Rebecca Camhi Gallery.

Installation view of a show at Rebecca Camhi Gallery. Photo: Courtesy of Rebecca Camhi.

“What’s been happening in the past few weeks is completely crazy,” said Camhi. “You can’t do any business. It’s not like people are just having financial problems. This is like you’re paralyzed. You can’t get paid, you can’t pay people.”

In the face of the economic instability, collectors are staying safe and angling for more established artists. “[Collectors] are interested in spending money but on internationally established art,” said Camhi. “I suppose there is a sense of safety—as opposed to lesser known artists. If it’s an established artist they would feel that if they have to sell, they could sell it on an international market.”

Other galleries, like Ileana Tounta’s Contemporary Art Center, which opened in 1988 and consists of two exhibition spaces and an art shop, have amended their hours. Tounta’s has shifted from full days to being open only in the afternoons, from 3-8pm. As for paying employees, “We’re trying,” Ileana Tounta told artnet News during a phone call, “but it’s hard.”

While there has been a reported fervor in stocking up on luxury goods like watches and handbags (things that could later be sold abroad), there hasn’t been a similar interest in stocking up on art. In fact, according to Sofia Vamiali of Vamiali’s, traffic to galleries is waning. “People have other priorities and are less interested to visit galleries and exhibitions in general,” Vamiali told artnet News over email.

Installation view of Athanasios Argianas's 2011 solo show. Photo: Courtesy of the Breeder.

Installation view of Athanasios Argianas’s 2011 solo show. Photo: Courtesy of the Breeder.

stablished in 2004, Vamiali’s was the first contemporary art gallery in the Metaxourgio district, which is home to many galleries, museums, and cafes. But now it’s struggling, and it has had to postpone some of the more ambitious projects of the kind it had organized in the past.

“The art market is basically dead right now in Athens,” said George Vamvakidis in a telephone interview. Vamvakidis is a co-founder of The Breeder, a successful gallery that specialized in Greek contemporary artists and is known on the international art fair circuit. “The state is unable to fund the arts and the private collectors, the biggest ones, choose not to support the local market. So as a result almost every single commercial gallery of our generation has closed its doors.”

George Vamvakidis and Stathis Panagoulis of the Breeder, Athens.

George Vamvakidis and Stathis Panagoulis of The Breeder, Athens. Photo: via artnet.com

Despite the galleries of his generation—roughly 8-9, which, like The Breeder, opened in the early 2000s—having closed, The Breeder has just launched a new artist residency program. The artist—LA-based Ben Wolf Noam—arrived just as the crisis struck.

“The day he landed,” Vamvakidis, a co-founder of the gallery, said, “was the first day of capital controls.”

Yet, despite the odd timing of the residency, it seems the setbacks for The Breeder were mostly logistical. “We had to pay for the production of the work that he’s doing. Everybody here wants to be paid with cash. You can’t take cash out of the bank, the businesses won’t accept credit because they’re insecure.”

Installation view of site specific graffiti project at Vamiali's. Photo: via Vamiali's website

Installation view of site specific graffiti project at Vamiali’s. Photo: via Vamiali’s website

For example, something as simple as the purchase of an air compressor (to create airbrush art) for Noam, whose show will open next at the gallery, was a nightmare. “You can’t pay through PayPal or iTunes. You can’t use your credit card to buy from a foreign company. You can’t buy something online.”

A number of galleries also noted that as a result of the crisis, they’re unable to participate in art fairs.

“It has been hard for the last two years I have to say,” said Ileana Tounta whose gallery’s roster is heavy on Greek artists and who regularly participated in international fairs including Art Basel, Art Frankfurt, ARCO, and Art Cologne. “We’re trying to keep the gallery open and at least we try to bring people in to exhibitions.”

Though The Breeder specializes in Greek contemporary artists—like Jannis Varelas and Andreas Angelidakis (whose work took over the gallery’s booth at this past iteration of Frieze New York)—it has managed to stay afloat, because of its international collectors. In October, the gallery will go ahead with plans to attend Frieze London.

Installation view of the current solo show of Dimitra Vamiali "The Fine Qualities of Distressed Paper."Photo: via Ileana Tounta's website.

Installation view of Dimitra Vamiali’s solo show “The Fine Qualities of Distressed Paper” at Ileana Tounta. Photo: via Ileana Tounta’s website.

The upshot of the crisis, according to some of the dealers, is that it has caused something of a renaissance in the country. Vamiali said the crisis became “an inspirational turning point for many artists.” Vamvakidis said that artists are “liberated from the forces of the market” and for this reason Athens has become something of a creative hub because of the resultant creative energy and the low cost of living. “Artists that are working under those circumstances—who have the balls to produce work that is totally unconventional,” said Vamvakidis, “are producing really brave work.”

Camhi says it’s not the end of the gallery business in Greece. Her gallery continues to be up and running despite the financial pressures. Currently on view is “Ormiale,” a group show with “works and objects” by Fabrice DomercqJasper Morrison and Marc Newson that runs through July 25. The opening included the presentation of wine from the vineyard that the three designers own in Bordeaux.

“It’s not like galleries have collapsed or anything,” she said. “We have opening hours. We continue our emails.”

Uffizi Gallery Turns Jailed Mafia Boss’s Naples Home into Art Museum—That’s Weird (artnet news)

by Amah-Rose Abrams, Wednesday, May 27, 2015 original article here.

Camorra House Museum

The house of Camorra boss Egidio “Brutus” Coppola, soon to become a museum Photo: via The Guardian

The Scarface-inspired home of imprisoned Camorra boss Egidio “Brutus” Coppola will become a temporary museum, the Guardian reports.

The show titled “The Light Wins Over the Shadow” opens in Naples on June 22. Dedicated to the memory of a local priest, Peppe Diana, who was murdered by the Camorra in 1994, the exhibition will include works lent by the Florentine Uffizi Gallery and others.

The seemingly unlikely collaboration of venue and lender came to be due to a chance meeting between Renato Natale, the anti-Camorra major of Casal di Principe, and Uffizi Director, Antonio Natali.

Natale has become recognized for being outspoken in his opposition to the Camorra as the town has long been a power center for the Casalesi clan. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, on the other hand, fell victim to an attack from the Scillian Mafia, Cosa Nostra, in 1993, which resulted in five deaths and $1 million in damages.

“Only through the promotion of civil society can we build a community that will always be ready to protect itself from this kind of infiltration,” Major Natale told the Guardian. “We as a people are kind of like a stammerer who has had a deep, deep trauma as a child. Here we had a trauma, that was Camorra, for everybody.“

There are hopes locally that the museum will become a permanent institution to commemorate the so-called resistance against the Camorra, with Natali stating that this is “one of the main aspirations of the Uffizi.”

The project is just one of many like it in the Naples area, which is seeking to liberate itself from the hold that the Camorra has maintained on the region for decades. Another re-use of mafia assets has seen a nearby field that was used by mafia boss “O Pazzo,” or “Crazy One,” to raise horses used by a co-operative to produce organic buffalo mozzarella.

Donatello’s Florence Cathedral Sculptures Cross the Atlantic for the First Time (Hyperallergic)

By by Allison Meier on March 18, 2015 original article here.

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Nanni di Banco, “St. Luke the Evangelist” (1408–13), marble, and Donatello, “St. John the Evangelist” (1408–15), marble, both of which were in niches alongside the Florence Cathedral’s main portal and are now on view in the Museum of Biblical Art’s ‘Sculpture in the Age of Donatello.’ (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

 

Gauzy white fabric divides the single gallery of the Museum of Biblical Art into a series of ethereal chambers for Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral, each turn revealing the marble visage of some stern saint or prophet. It’s an improbable exhibition, with 23 early Renaissance pieces that have rarely (if ever) left Italy, let alone crossed the Atlantic to arrive at this small Upper West Side museum. After their return to Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, it’s likely most of these pieces will never travel again because of their fragility and size. That exceptional nature of the exhibition is reason enough to visit, but the unexpected humanity of Donatello’s sculptures up close makes it essential.

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Installation view of ‘Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral’ at the Museum of Biblical Art

The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the museum of Florence Cathedral, is currently undergoing renovations until October, and the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) is the only stop for Sculpture in the Age of Donatello. Meanwhile, there’s just one relief by Donatello on permanent view in the United States: “Madonna of the Clouds” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This will probably be the best showing of his Florentine work in the United States for a while, maybe a lifetime.

Co-curated by Museo dell’Opera Director Timothy Verdon and Donatello scholar Daniel Zolli, who’s based at Harvard University, the exhibition also includes work by Donatello’s collaborators and contemporaries, who from 1400 to 1450 participated in making the Florence Cathedral, a project that jumpstarted the Renaissance in art and architecture. Anchoring the show are two colossal sculptures by Donatello (aka Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi) and Nanni di Banco, demonstrating two impressive sculptors competing with very different aesthetics right on the cathedral façade.

Donatello’s “St. John the Evangelist” (1408–15) gazes with furrowed intensity and a sprawling beard, while di Banco’s “St. Luke the Evangelist” (1408–13) has a neat style that could be mistaken for a Roman sculpture of Hadrian, his eyes half closed. Both were once positioned in niches on either side of the cathedral’s portal, four feet above an average person. To get the full impact of their oversize scale, you’d have to sprawl on the MOBIA floor (not recommended) and look up. Despite the slightly skewed perspective of viewing them at eye level, you get an immediate idea of two distinct artists, especially the energy emanating from Donatello’s saint, who, despite his detached confidence, feels ill at ease. A century later, the work would influence Michelangelo’s equally hulking “Moses.”

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Donatello, “Prophet” (1435–36), marble, and “Abraham and Isaac” (1421), marble

You could easily linger with each piece, from Filippo Brunelleschi’s wood models for the cathedral’s dome to Luca della Robbia’s reliefs for its bell tower. However, it’s the animation in Donatello’s work that really bristles. This feeling is strongest in two pieces from the cathedral’s bell tower positioned together. In a collaboration with Nanni di Bartolo, Donatello worked a single block of marble into “Abraham and Isaac” (1421), capturing the moment when Abraham was called to stop the sacrifice of his son, a test of faith. Isaac wears a look of blank resignation, but Abraham’s carved eyes have a startled expression — you can almost hear the shriek of angels halting his knife, the blade still resting on his son’s shoulder while he grips the boy’s hair. Opposite is one of Donatello’s best, the “Prophet” (1435–36) or “Zuccone” (Squash Head), as he’s nicknamed for his bald skull. Thought by many to depict the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, the figure’s eyes originally angled down from the bell tower; even in that aged, mutilated face you can sense real conflicted human psychology.

Whether in the resolution of a saint, the torment of a prophet, or a father compelled to nearly murder his son, Donatello embodied the heaviness of the divine pressing on humanity with compelling naturalism, even while the stone still feels raw and exposed. It’s hard from the exhibition’s white, transcendent design to understand the original perspective and positioning of the sculptures in the towering cathedral, looking down from their imposing perches. Fortunately, at a human scale there remains the intended sense of awe, and one that’s for a fleeting time transported to New York.

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Detail of Donatello’s “Prophet” (1435–36), marble

Donatello, "Prophet" (1435-36), marble; and "Abraham and Isaac" (1421), marble

Donatello, “Prophet” (1435–36), marble, and “Abraham and Isaac” (1421), marble

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Detail of Donatello’s “Abraham and Isaac” (1421), marble

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Installation view of ‘Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral’ at the Museum of Biblical Art

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Donatello and Michelozzo, bronze heads with traces of gilding (1439), possibly copied from ancient bronzes

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Three marble sculptures by Luca della Robbia for the Florence Cathedral’s bell tower (1437–39)

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Two marble prophets by Donatello from 1406–10, sculpted for the bell tower of Florence Cathedral

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Two marble “profetinos,” or “small prophets,” the one on the left attributed to Donatello and the one on the right to Nanni di Banco, both from 1406–09 Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Nanni di Banco or Donatello, “Vir Dolorum” (“Man of Sorrows”) (1407–09), marble

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Attributed to Giovanni d’Ambrogio, “Archangel Gabriel of the Annunciation” and “Virgin Mary of the Annunciation” (both late 14th century), marble

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Installation view of ‘Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum’ of Biblical Art

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

orenzo Ghiberti, “Adoration of the Magi” (replica from the North Doors of Florence Baptistery), gilded bronze; Master of Castel di Sangro, “Adoration of the Magi” (first half of 15th century), maiella stone, which copied the original Ghiberti composition

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

nstallation view of ‘Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral’ at the Museum of Biblical Art

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art

Exterior view of the Museum of Biblical Art

 

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral continues at the Museum of Biblical Art (1865 Broadway, Upper West Side, Manhattan) through June 14. 

 

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.