MOMA PS1: The Beauty of Space

Posted on Thursday September 08, 2011

After more trolling up and down Jackson Avenue, Queens, I finally spot a sign, which turns out to be on the back of PS1 (must remember not to rely too heavily on Lonely Planet). It’s a recycled school building, and nicely low-key inside: original spaces, white walls (it is a public gallery after all), the old stairways preserved.

Ryan Trecartin‘s show “Any Ever” is on. In a series of six interlinked rooms, videos are playing. The spaces have been decked out with various props to make them seem like a lounge, a bedroom, whatever. I’m not sure why. The videos show a number of talking heads going on with their own stream-of-consciousness babble. The curator’s description says it all:

“Taken together, they comprise a poetic, formal, and structural exploration of new forms of technology, language, narrative, identity, and humanity, portraying an extra-dimensional world that channels the existential dramas of our own.”

Well, I guess that must be right.  Other gallery visitors don’t seem to know what to think, either, and drift through, looking disengaged. Some stay and watch, but none seems moved or inspired by it. Maybe that’s the point? One person’s self-indulgence is another’s bored witlessness?

I overhear the gallery attendants talking: “I think they can walk on that. Can they walk on that?” Don’t walk, run.

The gallery’s also showing a review exhibition of works by Belgian artist Francis Alys. I must be having a ‘thick’ day, because again, I’m struggling to grasp the point of some of the works. Most puzzling is Untitled (2010), a small wooden figure like a sculptor’s marionette, arms outstretched, wearing a plastic bag as a raincoat. It’s installed in the centre of an otherwise empty room. I sit on the floor against the back wall and contemplate it. Other gallery-goers poke their head into the room, take a quick look and walk on. They don’t see anything.

In the room with Francis Alyss’ Untitled, 2010, and not much else

I keep sitting and looking. Maybe something will come. Finally it does. Outside, through the windows, the trees are moving in the wind, clouds passing quickly, thunderheads forming and breaking up, water dripping from the air conditioner to the street below, the whole view mediated by the grid of flywire across the window. The grid is echoed across the top of the wall radiator. Pipes in, pipes out, stop valves, one with a red handle. It’s like the James Turrell sky room along the corridor, only with more in it, and without having to squint because of the glare.

Thank you, Francis Alys. You’ve helped me be still and see. I’m still not sure what your work meant, but maybe that wasn’t the point.

There’s another show on, too: “Modern Women, Single Channel”. Along a row of what look like school desks pushed up against each other sit two rows of old-style TV monitors. They’re playing old, feminist-inspired video art. Once it must have looked edgy, rebellious, challenging, out-there, even transformative. Today it looks like the sad dry dust of the past; interesting because of its place in art (and feminist) history, but otherwise generally unwatchable for any length – although I’m intrigued to watch Carolee Schneeman‘s Meat Joy in this setting.

Again, the curator’s description shows a brave attempt to make the best of it:

“…they demonstrate video’s potential to test the limits of narrative and the relationship between live performance and its documentaries”.

I’d have to say that I wished I’d seen the live performances, not the documentaries.