Christian Marclay @ The Whitney

I spent the holiday weekend in NYC.  It was perfect, after seeing American Idiot Saturday night we had Sunday and Monday completely free.  Which means we took our time enjoying our surroundings.  Not something typical of New York I know, but we were in a fabulous neighborhood and stayed away from the crazy of Time Square.  I’ve always said I didn’t think I could live in New York, but I think I have to rephrase that to, “I don’t think I could ever live in Time Square.”

Sunday we strolled through Central Park from the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side and right into The Whitney Museum of American Art.  What we thought would be an overcrowded weekend in the museum turned out to be not so.  The Whitney has a few interesting exhibitions going on right now, one of which is Christian Marclay: Festival.

Artist/composer Christian Marclay (b. 1955) is known for his distinctive fusion of image and sound. Celebrated as a pioneer of turntablism, Marclay transforms sound and music into visual and physical forms through performance, collage, sculpture, large-scale installations, photography, and video- The Whitney Museum

The exhibition relies on audience participation.  The weekends feature performances by musicians who have worked with, or are inspired by, Marclay and the audience is encouraged to photograph and record the performances and then upload these to the Whitney Flickr photostream.  Along one wall of the space is a giant chalkboard with musical staffs lines.  Visitors are asked to create something along this wall, which will later be interpreted by musicians who come in and create a musical piece based on the drawings/writings.  This is the first time I have seen a major museum or gallery utilize social media and audience participation effectively.  I was basically taking notes all weekend.


Being able to interact with the exhibition was fun, rather than just watch and look, which of course was interesting on a whole other level.  To be able to snap pictures and record and then include in the photostream creates a sense of inclusion.  I was no longer an outsider looking in, but part of the creative process at a major museum.

The other elements of the exhibition consisted of 2 “films” created by Marclay.  It was interesting to watch these.  Basically what he does is pair images with non traditional soundtracks, incorporating slices of old silent movies and sounds in everyday life.  We might see bottles lined up on a table with sound of cracking glass behind them.  It’s an odd experience to sit down and watch.  Where you expect there to be grand symphonic movements behind scenes what we are presented with are more singular tracks.  It’s oddly quiet, and hard to describe fully without experience it.  But I suspect, that is part of it.  The experience.

The experience of being pulled out of what we expect, is the overall impression I took away from this exhibition.  you expect to be an observer in a museum, not an active participator and you expect a certain background track to films. Festival takes you out of the traditional expectations and forces you to reevaluate the way you interpret art and how you perceive your place within its context.

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One thought on “Christian Marclay @ The Whitney

  1. What a pleasant surprise to see this DC-based blog posting about such an obscure and, to me, long-treasured sound artist (ever since his collaboration with the Kronos Quartet for composer John Zorn’s “Forbidden Fruit”). He goes to the heart of what conventional turntable artists only dabble in because of hip-hop’s inherent EZ-listening, ego-driven limitations; following Duchamp’s archetype, Marclay splays culture collages through sound and video with all the ironic seriousness of classical comedy.

    I hadn’t heard about this exhibit and now am convinced that it’s worth the trek. Thanks for the tip and for your insights.

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