Something fresh- Tino Sehgal
Here I am sweating through my tee shirt feeling very out of place. Frankfurt is full of men in black suits looking bizarrely unruffled and I am careening through the streets with my torn shoulder bag and my frayed map feeling every bit the unworthy tourist. It’s worse than that, actually, I am feverish- the jet lag sniffles have turned into something worse, a flight of stairs makes me all clammy and I feel disoriented and addled. This is not good for someone like me who gets lost in the aisles of Safeway. I am famously without a sense of direction and now I am stumbling through the financial center of Frankfurt looking for the Moderne Kunst (contemporary art museum) literally having crossed the same landmarks two or three times from different directions. I start to suspect that the dark suited men have noticed me circling aimlessly. I feel like Dostoyevsky’s poor Raskolnikov, the sweaty outsider, the embodiment of human poverty, the man with no right to be anywhere. Wait- is that an axe peeping out of my shoulder bag?
Okay, so I am having a dramatic moment. Then, like a miracle, the museum materializes and I step inside. What a comfort to know that I can pay my 6 Euros and wander in the air conditioning with the civilized and familiar works of some of my favorite contemporary artists. Here’s a Nauman video of him painting himself red and then white and then black. Here is a Dan Flavin fluorescent homage to the Swiss flag. Here’s the hilarious and irreverent Joseph Bueys installation of two voices emanating from a wall- One says ”Ja, Ja, Ja” while the other contradicts “Ne,Ne,Ne”. I sat in the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art last summer and listened to a recording of this but it has new meaning in a more German context. As I’m wandering I keep hearing a shrill giggle and shriek from another gallery, I assume it’s a video piece that’s on some kind of loop and that I’ll check it out when I get to that part of the museum. Then I enter a gallery space that seems completely empty. I see a guard by the door, a short, fat man of about sixty and another tall dour looking guard entering the gallery from another door. Then suddenly there is a third, a younger blond one, and they all descend on me hopping in a circle very close around me and flapping their arms up and down shouting” This is so contemporary! so contemporary! And then eeeiioooo they all squeal. They do this about seven or eight times. Because of the german accents it sounds more like “this is su contimpreery, su contimpreery.” I am so taken unawares that I stop dead in my tracks caught between the need to laugh and call the police. But these are the police! The museum police, anyway. I was nailed to the spot, all assumptions about the safety and propriety of the museum sanctum snatched out from under me. After I somehow manage to extricate myself from them I return to the lobby of the museum and ask the friendly woman there what has just happened to me. I ask if there is anything in English that I can read about the exhibit and she says- Not in English or in any language. Tino Sehgal, the artist, does not allow anything to be written about the piece. I am stunned and a little exhausted from the experience. She gives me a knowing look and tells me that I should step across the street to their auxiliary gallery space, that the entry I have already paid will suffice for both. I quickly do so, suspecting that something is up. When I get there I find a gutted old brick warehouse. There is no art on the wall, just a woman sitting at an impromptu card table by the door who doesn’t look up as I pass. I wander through some dusty hallways and come upon a room with about 8 or 9 people in it. As I enter they all suck in their breath in this audible suction sound and say in unison something like “this is a situation” then they proceed to move in a casual form of slow motion sitting or leaning in groups of twos and threes. As they do this they discuss the meaning of “situation”, whether it can be created or is it always spontaneous? Is it really possible to construct a situation or will the situation always have a destiny of its own? Actually, the conversation is very interesting and I settle down on the floor to listen in. When they sense that I’m comfortable one of the women turns to me and asks me what I think? I become part of the piece, not in a self conscious way but in a way that lets me know I was part of the piece long before I entered the room, that they know I am the kind of person who thinks about these things. I feel like telling them about my journey and being lost and feeling like a character from “Crime and Punishment” but I don’t want to show off. After about 45 minutes I leave.
This is Tino Sehgal, and one of these pieces (or something similar) was Germany’s entry into the Venice Biennale 2 years ago. Look him up. Maybe I will never be able to have an experience with his work again that rivals this one, the element of surprise was huge in its effectiveness, but it was really something. Fresh is the word. something I will remember. something which will shift my perception of the museum experience and what its possibilities are.