In late January, I took a trip to the Guggenheim Museum, in the company of painter Susanna Heller, to experience Tino Sehgal's all-performance exhibit. Despite some initial skepticism -- what could possibly be so engaging about an empty museum and a handful of performers? -- I was taken with his work.
It included two pieces, a choreography called "The Kiss," and an up-the-ramp series of interactive conversations dubbed "This Progress." Read the initial review here.
A week ago, I went back to the museum in the company of two friends who were visiting from Los Angeles -- and it was eye-opening. The first time I saw the show was in the bubble of the press preview, where there were no more than two dozen people in attendance at a given time. As a result, the walk up the ramp, and the series of conversations that accompanied it, seemed almost dreamlike. I was enthralled.
Fast forward to a week ago. The museum was packed to the gills. Some of the child performers seemed frazzled and even a few of the grown-ups were looking peaked. In addition, some of the hand-offs -- where a conversation is relayed from one performer to another -- were bumpy. This interrupted the seamless, meditative nature of the piece as I had originally experienced it. Not to mention the fact that it's difficult to get into any sort of profound discussion when you're dodging packs of museum-goers and the family behind you is loudly dissecting the merits of the dirty water dogs on Fifth Avenue.
I still managed to have a couple of engaging discussions -- and my friends were truly taken with the show (one of them cried). But the experience reminded me that museum-going these days can be a contact sport. And a performance that is so dependent on intense intimacy becomes muddled when subjected to real-world conditions. Sehgal's ideas remain worth exploring. But you may have to strain to hear them above the din.