the secular temple

With an hour left before the installation closed for good, I passed through the keyhole doorway into the Guggenheim’s reading room. Tino was Skyping on a laptop. The laptop was perched on the top of his son’s stroller. It was the only clean surface in what had become the dark, smelly womb of the piece for all the adult interpreters. Amid the empty coffee cups and stale sandwiches and jars of dried fruit and nuts emerged a site of conversations about careers and kids and travel and literature and yoga that continued over days. The inverse of the ramps, the negative space of “This Progress.” It had to be talk, but talk of a different kind. For some, this talk was nourishing. Some wondered if the real progress of Sehgal’s concept was taking place in this dirty smelly room. We were the real art. Our conversation was the real conceit.

On the laptop, I could see a well-dressed woman standing in an office. Behind her, a man in a well-cut suit sat at another desk, typing—the cut of his suit and the office furniture suggested that they were beaming in from some European cosmopole. She was doing something that looked like a jumping jack. Then Tino made a similar motion. I sat down next to Dave, who asked Maureen—an interpreter who had been in several of Tino’s projects—what piece they were doing. “Is it ‘This is So Contemporary?'” Maureen didn’t hear Dave—or at least she didn’t look up from her iPhone. She didn’t even pay attention to Tino’s gyrations. Dave shrugged in the silence. I offered, with a tone of authority, “Oh no, ‘This is So Contemporary’ is not jumping jacks—it’s swinging arms.” “Oh yeah?” Dave said, impressed. I shook my head and admitted that I didn’t really know at all. Maybe it was something new. There being no video or authoritative documented written description of any of Tino’s pieces, we had no idea what they were doing. Maybe they were only calisthenics. Dave and I laughed, tired and punchy. Anna walked in and announced to no one in particular that the performers of “Kiss” (Tino’s kinetic sculpture on view in the atrium) were high for this last shift. Ecstasy. Dave and I laughed some more, and went out to watch. Tino kept jumping.

A few hours later, not drinking, sitting on the couch by myself, I wondered if I could find a video of “This is So Contemporary” on the web. I brazenly typed Tino’s name into the Youtube search box. It would be a futile act, I knew, and I was right. Tino’s agent had assiduously kept every video and image of every one of his works from the web. Part of the agreement of buying his work or having it “on loan” was that it would not be documented with video, camera, blueprint, written word, or even written contract: when a museum bought a Tino Sehgal, the agreements were oral. The money, of course, was real. This was a source of unending fascination. Everyone seemed to have something to say about it. And then, early in the run of “This Progress” the New York Times ran an ebullient review of the show and included a photograph of Tino’s “Kiss.” That day, Tino stayed off the ramps. He commandeered the tiny reading desk in the reading room and called and texted and typed all the powers to strike the photograph from the record. That day, the mood in the womb was hushed, worried. We realized we didn’t know Tino that well.

On the evening of March 10, while everyone was out drinking and celebrating, and I was looking for “This is So Contemporary” I discovered that someone had posted a video of “This Progress.” I clicked with excitement knowing I could only watch it a few times before it disappeared. I watched it over and over. Little edges of sadness that had nagged at the edge of my consciousness on many days at the Guggenheim started to take firmer shape as I watched. Ah, how intimately familiar the pace of the hand-held camera, taking in the calm ballet of not-quite colliding bodies moving up the ramps, first past the opening to the permanent collection on the second floor, past the reading room, past the cut opening in the wall, past the planter on the fourth floor, up and up to the seventh floor, where the sun streamed in brilliantly through Frank Lloyd Wright’s magisterial clear glass ceiling. The glass ceiling that made the interior of the Guggenheim so unusually, unexpectedly bright and glowing—and which would be covered up the night after Tino’s show closed. But ah—how intimately familiar the inflections of the transient conversations caught on tape, especially the repetition of that lifting of tone, the one that that marks less a question than a query, a hope for a response that takes you somewhere.

Page 2 of 5 | Previous page | Next page