Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What's New at the Guggenheim

So what's new at the Guggenheim? Plenty, I'd say. On the main rotunda floor, two young people are locked in what at first seems like a passionate embrace. They move slowly toward each other, their lips meet and they do not part for some time. But all the time they are kissing, they are in continuous movement. Their hands, their feet, their torsos, their legs are all turning and twisting. They are, I guess you could say, a living, constantly changing work of art. Like works of art, there is a conscious attempt to represent line, shape, color, motion, perspective. The difference here, of course, is that there is no record of the event. The subject is not only forever in flux, no part of what is momentarily seen is ever permanently captured. No video or photography is allowed. Indeed, it is the impermanence of it all that especially seems to fascinate the artist who has conceived this exhibit. Nothing lasts, nothing remains. We have only our recollection of the event, the fading images of our memory to bring it back to life. By the way, there is no wall label or signage of any kind to indicate what is going on. Unexpectedness and spontaneity are what pique our interest

And as if that isn't enough, as you climb the familiar ramp of the Guggenheim from the bottom up, you notice there is no art of any kind on the wall. But just as you're trying to figure out why this is, a young boy of about 8 comes up to you, introduces himself and asks you in a muted voice what progress is. If you're like me, you begin to give a serious answer and you are just a bit stunned when the boy repeats back to you what you have said and asks what you mean when you say that progress is when everyone has the housing and the food and the health care that they need. But before you can unreel your full spiel about progress and as you continue to climb up the Guggenheim incline, you are handed off to a teenaged girl who asks you whether there is enough space in the world to provide really adequate housing for everyone. Continuing toward the top of the Guggenheim, you begin explaining that development can proceed up as well as out and that it should be easy to ensure housing for everyone without overcrowding. But then you are turned over to a thirty-something woman who asks whether people's rights to certain minimal material conditions can really be legislated. You discuss this with her a bit and somehow you find yourself invoking the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights before she introduces you to an older man with a shock of white hair who seems to be the artist. He asks you what you think of all this and you admit to being fascinated. He then tells you that the kissing couple down below are in continuous movement just as the museum's patrons climbing to the top of the empty Guggenheim Museum are in constant motion, and even the whole idea of progress, which is also about consistent movement, mirrors this theme of unyielding change. You aren't sure how to respond but say thank you and then begin the walk back down. You wonder if you really have just met the conceptualizer of this entire project and then you notice all these small groups of people in conversation as they ascend the ramp and you realize that there are dozens of volunteers stationed at various points of the museum trained to engage visitors at key points on their upward journeys. You entertain a quick thought about what art is coming to, but you also can't stop smiling and that seems like a very good thing as you proceed to the lower rotunda to espy that kissing couple still going at it. You pause to ponder the conditions under which this could be a really good gig, and then head out into the cold but sun-drenched afternoon thinking about art, and well...kissing.

1 comment:

  1. 'When you leave the museum thinking about it' may be a good answer to the question, "What is Art?"