Monday, August 1, 2011

Grand Openings at the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Ei Arakawa sending a weather balloon into the air, in Grand Openings Return of the Blogs, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, July 20, 2011.

Today, Monday, August 1, is the final day of Grand Openings' 13-day run at the Museum of Modern Art. The five-member group — comprised of curator Jay Sanders, artist and gallerist Emily Sundblad, artist Ei Arakawa, musician Stefan Tcherepnin, and artist Jutta Koether — has staged a variety of events at the museum over the past two weeks, ranging from discussions with curators to a performance by the black-metal band Liturgy.

On Friday, July 22, the group staged a singles night in the museum's atrium that was emceed by Arakawa. Dozens of self-identified single people performed Koether's Mad Garlands piece, using black wooden planks (some splashed with liquid glass) to enact a variety of actions at Arakawa's direction. It was pure mayhem. A dance contest, with two partners sharing a plank, followed. I participated, and wrote about it as part of my piece on Grand Openings' MoMA appearance, published in last week's New York Observer.

The members of Grand Openings spent much of their time in the atrium working on laptops while sitting on benches or wandering around the space, preparing for later events, inviting that old question: "Is this art?" -- or, perhaps more precisely: "Are they performing?" The show seemed intent on tossing aside any attempt at an answer. Sure, it's art: it's in a museum. But maybe we're at a point where we need to start asking better questions. This weekend, a writer friend told me he thought the whole affair smacked of "half-baked relational aesthetics," which is a description that I almost suspect the group would applaud.

Painter and professor Jutta Koether, artists Enzo Camacho and Amy Lien, and Arakawa on a tour of MoMA's sculpture garden

Arakawa, Anne Tcherepnin, Stefan Tcherepnin

July 21, 2011: a drawing by Ms. Tcherepnin and a sand piece by her son, Stefan Tcherepnin

Sundblad and an accomplice at work on replica Niele Toroni paintings

July 22, 2011: Arakawa and Koether demonstrate how to dance with the aid of a wooden plank

July 24, 2011: Masaaki Yoshino

The exhibition (or the residency or the show: it's hard to know what to call it) is called Grand Openings Return of the Blogs, the latter part of that title referring to the typed "blog" entries that the group members have been posting in the atrium — their base of operations — throughout their time at the museum. In addition, they have been updating the schedule of events for the show on a webpage available through MoMA's site, in something of a blog-like fashion.

Stretched over thirteen days, it is has been impossible to see everything that has taken place. I have only visited four of the first twelve days, but even if one watched for all thirteen days, it would be impossible to keep a complete record of activities, since multiple events often happened at the same time. Arakawa explained to me during an interview that only members of Grand Openings will effectively see the whole show.

A scene from the rehearsal for the opera The Marriage of Stefan Tcherepnin

Blogs have become the primary means of documenting the myriad events. Reading the myriad writers that have stopped by the atrium to see the show (Danielle Dobies, Michael Bilsborough, and Ashton Cooper, for instance), it is possible to put together a partial record of activities. The resulting picture is inevitably incomplete, but seems perfectly in keeping with Grand Openings' approach, which continually elides performance and rest, art and inactivity.

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