Saturday, May 1, 2010

Guggenheim's Moments of Magic

photo courtesy of

A few months ago, my friend, Hammad, and I went to the Tino Sehgal show at the Guggenheim Museum. I had heard of Sehgal’s other works would put viewers into “constructed situations” in which participants or workers will carry out instructions. For example, a few years ago in a Chelsea gallery, visitors would enter, seeing guards at their posts (which is often the case in these high-end galleries). Suddenly, all of the guards would burst into song and dance, chanting “art is so con-TEM-por-ar-y TEM-por-ar-y!” As quickly as they began their performance, they ended, once again standing still at their posts.

This most recent work was entitled “This Progress.” Your journey began at the base of the towering, spiral staircase in the museum, the first time since the building’s opening that the walls were just white, clean of art and the ceiling skylight was opened. It was spectacular to see Wright’s creation as is was intended. Sadly, cameras were not permitted (as with many of Sehgal’s works) and I was being good that day.

We were greeted by a young boy, no older than twelve that boldly confronted us with the question “What is progress?” I can remember the funny inflection in his voice as he asked the only philosophical question I had heard outside of a classroom setting (or in one of the lovely banters my husband and I have).

I think Hammad was a better listener and conversationalist than I was that day. I couldn’t get over the white, spiral staircase. If I wasn’t so afraid of heights I would have slid down that “railing.” Or roller-bladed down the ramp :P. As we continued up the ramp, we encountered teenagers, adults, and finally those in their golden age, each asking or questioning our definition of progression. Some focused more on abstract concepts while others regaled stories from their own lives.

It never ceases to amaze me that in New York City with all of its vibrancy and concentrated population that we don’t speak to each other more. The city that never sleeps is often silent. This refreshing little encounter reminded me of that silence as well as the beautiful and diverse humanity in the city that I miss every day. This magical moment of a great friend, astounding architecture, philosophy and New Yorker conversation was a great way to spend an afternoon.

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