Mushroom ThursdayJuly 23rd, 2011
Was it worth it to endure the deadly heat just to watch Mushroom Thursday? Such a tempting title for part of Grand Openings Return of the Blogs at MoMA. After an hour of pacing the Marron Atrium, the answer was “No.” Even Stefan Tcherepnin’s really cool sand/sound sculpture, its side painted by his mother during the previous day’s performances, didn’t validate the trip, not on this hot day. Visitors looked on – curious, open, patient – while the Grand Openings artists milled about. Tcherepnin methodically tended to a replica of the Niele Toroni painting upstairs. Jutta Koether chatted with a security guard. Ei Arakawa shuffled around in flip-flops. Oh well, at least I’d enjoy A/C on MoMA’s bill and not mine.
Things changed when Kyoto visitor Masaaki Yoshino a.k.a. Miami lingered near the sand/sound sculpture a little longer than one would expect. He stared intently and hunched over to look closer. What was he seeing? Was he enacting Arakawa’s recent, resounding truism that “Painting is watching?”
Miami began to dance, mutter, and fidget, as if having a super exciting conversation with it this cosmic rumbler. Sound guru Jim Toth cut the sound off, as schedule dictated, but Miami waved his arms and rocked, as if trying to resurrect the savior machine. Then someone gave Miami a microphone… Fun! And hence, the title Mushroom Thursday.
A bit of a come-down for us all, however, when the action shifted across the atrium, where MoMA’s Sabine Breitwieser, Christophe Cherix, Kathy Halbreich, Pablo Helguera, and Barbara London, convened with Grand Openings artists Jay Sanders (moonlighting on his Whitney Biennial curating), Jutta Koether, Ei Arakawa, Emily Sundblad and Tcherepnin; joined by dapper PS1 curator Peter Eleey and artist/writer Nicholas Guagnini.
“There is a rise in the use of psychedelics in New York City,” claimed Sundblad, something she attributed to “the fatigue in [users] multitasking lives.” Kathy Halbreich shared her prohibitive fear of hallucinogens, then smoothly cross-marketed the upcoming MoMA retrospective of fearless Sigmar Polke: “He was really looking for something.” A dish of mushrooms sat in a bowl between the conversants, but they were “dry” mushrooms – portobello, crimini – and not dried mushrooms.
The group talked about the museum’s historical struggles to engage with performance art. In the 1940s, performance was still subsumed within theater, while the later Fluxus was too divisive. This discussion brought up questions about how MoMA should collect performance art that often is so ephemeral that it can’t be exhibited. Does the archive becomes more of a destination than the gallery? Then how does the museum keep up attendance if there’s nothing to see in person? It is up to the new generation of MoMA curators to find an interdisciplinary, interdepartmental solution.
Peter Eleey and Jutta Koether batted back and forth the “exchange” between institution and artists. The artists get co-opted (“colonized” as Halbreich called it) by enlisting into the museum’s expanding nebula, while the museum gets co-opted by the artists who offer remedies to the museum’s vulnerabilities. That is, the museum has to “keep up” while artists “got what ya need.” So where does that leave the audience? Deprived of a spectacle, how long will a crowd wait?
Not this long. Curators chuckled about the remaining audience: a dozen or so bodies, including several MoMA associates. And that was the acid test of Mushroom Thursday. MoMA wants to keep up with performance art. Grand Openings offers a fix. Each side benefits. But when Grand Openings – super insider artists – proposes action without considering the audience, then what can MoMA do? MoMA must choose between its visitors and its artists, and at least in this case, the artists have the advantage.