Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tino Sehgal at the Guggenheim

At the Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Avenue (at 89th Street), Exhibition dates: January 29–March 10, 2010. I liked the Tino Sehgal pieces very much but I am not interested in writing a review. Instead I am writing my responses and reactions to the piece in the comments section.

London-born, Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal constructs situations with people that defy the traditional contexts of museum and gallery environments, focusing on the fleeting gestures and social subtleties that define lived experience rather than the material aspects of conventional art making. His singular practice has been informed by his studies in dance and economics, yielding ephemeral works that consist only of the interactions among their participants and are not visually documented. Organized as part of the Guggenheim's 50th-anniversary celebrations, Sehgal's exhibition comprises a mise-en-scène that will occupy the entire Frank Lloyd Wright–designed rotunda. One facet of the artist’s practice, quasi-sculptural choreographed movement, will transform the ground floor of the rotunda into an arena for spectatorship. On the spiraling ramp, another aspect—direct verbal interaction between museum visitors and trained participants—will predominate. Sehgal's works expand the concept of what constitutes a contemporary art object, offering the viewer an immediate engagement with the realization of the work presented.[Guggenheim PR]

A little slight of hand blogging separates this post from where it started in the comment section of the previous one.


Cedric C said...

I was waiting for you critique of the Tino Sehgal piece. Do you intend to write one?

It seems there is another exhibit that opened at Gugg so apparently the emptied space was only for a small while.

Cedric C

George said...

Cedric, I saw the Tino Sehgal piece last week and thought it was fabulous. I don't intend to write anything about it, it needs to be experienced directly.

See: Never-"Ending Story" by Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker

Or, "How I Made an Artwork Cry" by Jerry Saltz in New York Magazine

PS, I thought the photo ban was appropriate since there are minors participating in This Progress (the piece on the Guggenheim ramp)

Cedric C said...

I see. I probably wouldn't even see the point in taking a picture, anyway (if I was there).

I wanted to know if you felt it was like a "theatre piece", or performance, or living sculpture, etc... The descriptions I read sound like it is insitu-theater.



George said...


The piece on the ramp involved an interaction between the viewer (me) and the guides (whatever they are called). I've just seen it once but it's a walk and talk moving up the ramp. There was no other interaction other than what occurred between me and each guide. At each floor I was passed off to a new older guide. I wasn't particularly aware of the others participating and whatever experiences they had were different from mine.

It's fairly straight forward analyzing the structure and metaphor of the piece but I'm not sure what point there is in trying to define it in categorical way.

What the artworld needs to discover is this: it is not the medium which matters, it is the message which matters. It's less important to consider who does something first and more important to consider the meaningfulness of the experience.

Cedric C said...

Where it leads to category, is that the discourse wouldn't be about visual arts if the piece was simply presented as theatre
that requires the Gugg's rotunda to function. When you claim it to be visual arts, you open up questions of value and judgment
about visual aesthetics that bring an intellectual heavyness that probably shouldn't be there. "I have made a work of art cry", said Saltz. Certainly that's because the PR claims the piece to be visual art. In a theatre context, you would say "oops, I've made the performer cry" (theatre allows for mistakes as a field of art where the media is predominantly human).

The artist is presented as groundbreaking in the sphere of visual arts, but I'm worried about the artworld's unawareness of contemporary theater history, where pieces like this have been presented in the past 20 years. Sehgal is at Gugg because he is categorized as visual artist. If Sehgal came in Montreal, say, during the FTA (a 20+ years old festival of theater focussed on experimentation), he would have a
hard time defining what he does as being something different than theatre, except for the part where his "theatrics" usually invade museums and places where visual arts are presented (and concerned). So if all this is "about visual arts", than what is Sehgal's message? That visual arts suck, and ephemeral theatre is much more humanistic and sublime?

But nevermind performance art said that before, I just think that, if indeed theatre is better than visual arts, than it should be defined as such, categorized as such. I think Sehgal's piece is theatre masked as being visual arts.

Cedric C

George said...

Cedric, It must have been close to 40 years ago that I saw my first performance by Joan Jonas in a dimly lit raw loft space in Soho NYC. Somewhere along the line, experimental theatre and art performance more or less merged.

I experienced Tino Sehgal's theatre piece (or performance) and you read the reviews.

First off, "Groundbreaking! Spectacular! Gripping! Earth Shaking! Terms which are found in the lexicon of the publicists for theater or films. If these terms are applied to Tino Sehgal's works then take them in that spirt. Further, I think you are taking Jerry Saltz's comment more seriously than he intended OR maybe not seriously enough.

You say, In a theatre context, you would say "oops, I've made the performer cry" (theatre allows for mistakes as a field of art where the media is predominantly human).

This is incorrect, it wasn't a mistake on the part of the performer. At the first level of this piece, the guided are children. It was a bit disarming.

Tino's piece occurs solely in the experience of the viewer. In fact it may only exist in the experience of the viewer and therefor my experience and Jerry Saltz's experience will be different. It is the awareness of the uniqueness of my experience which defines the piece for me, and makes it personal in a way that no narrative description can reveal. I remember what happened but I won't share it.

Further, I am assuming that Tino wrote This Progress specifically for the Guggenheim Museum in NYC and that it would not be the same if performed anywhere else including Montreal. The participant (me, you or the viewer) walks UP the Guggenheim ramp, against the resistance of gravity which becomes more apparent the farther you go. One might say its an uphill battle.

At each landing the guide hands you off to another guide who is a bit older and who is given a brief description of what transpired between the the two of you during your walk up the ramp. In a way, the first stage, your childhood memories define what occurs as you progress up the Guggenheim ramp. Since this initial dialog gets passed on, from the child-guide's memory it in effect shapes the dialog on each succeeding whether you intend it or not.

The setting for This Progress is essential to it's experience. With the alcove galleries bare, I was aware of a ghostly whiteness to the Guggenheim spiral as I walked higher, my thoughts shifted between the architecture and my interaction with the guide, between the context (life's context) and my interactive experience within it. Moving UP against the resistance of gravity towards the END.

To get caught up in the trivialities of whether it is properly "theater" or "art" only seems to drain away the essence of the work.

Cedric C said...

Thanks for your reply, George. I probably won't find the time to catch Sehgal's. Hopefully Janet Cardiff can be invited to do an audio museum walk at the Gugg some day. They have this quality to be equally in-situ but more permanent.
More museal, perhaps.