Review: theanyspacewhatever at the Guggenhiem

I groaned along with a few other people when the black and white film we were watching on beanbag chairs stopped in the middle, apparently on a continuous loop that never finishes. Since I had finished my free espresso, I got up and someone else jetted into my seat. The espresso bar’s line had died down, and people mingled up and down the white ramp. Where was I?

–the not-so-stuffy Guggenheim. The Guggenheim in New York has taken on a playful approach this fall, with an “invitation to a core group of these artists—Angela Bulloch, Maurizio Cattelan, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, Carstenller, Pierre Huyghe, Jorge Pardo, Philippe Parreno, and Rirkrit Tiravanija—to collectively formulate a scenario for an exhibition,” according to its press release for theanyspacewhatever.

‘Relational aesthetics’ makes an intimidating phrase. However, these artists, who take the exhibition as a medium, have turned the Guggenheim into a humanized and fun space where suddenly everything starts to look like art. The museum has been transformed into one sprawling art playground, where the whole experience becomes a user-friendly and interrelated series of experiences as one ascends the circular ramp. It starts with the marquee of flashing lights at the entrance, but this theatrical experience is one where the viewer is the star. The bare white spiral of the interior is punctuated with a plethora of details that humanize the space. On walking in, one looks up to see a glittering starry sky and down to see a Pinocchio submerged face down in the museum’s small pool. What’s the connection between these works? Only that they share the space with each other, created to work together to draw the viewer into the space, and make them more aware of their surroundings.

It works on you subtly at first, but becomes more and more interesting. I took my shoes off to watch part of a documentary on some cushions next to one of the TVs on the first level, thereby making myself part of the exhibition as I discovered when girls took photos of the scene, and me, from the balcony above. Associative chains of black words seemed randomly typed both in placement and meaning at first. They never take a structured narrative, but one becomes more in tune with a generalized significance. The sound of falling water immerses the viewer as he walks through a bare white tunnel, then he is lost in a brown cardboard maze with holes that you can peep through and art embedded where you are least likely to look. After a set of hotel bedroom furniture on a round glass platform, you arrive at my favorite part, the Illy espresso bar next to the beanbag movie theatre. Eventually, you reach a sign at the top telling you you have reached the end, and it really feels like a you have completed a journey.
This process-oriented way of experiencing the exhibit made me feel like a child, uninhibited. This is the kind of space where you can touch the art, drink the art, and walking through it makes you a part of the art. These ordinary objects, beds or words like half-formed thoughts, could be found outside the Guggenheim’s walls. The New York Times reported that, “For a price and with a reservation, up to two people can spend the night. (Like so many must-dos in New York, it is sold out.)” Does it get more interactive than that?

It will be up until January 7, 2009, and in conjunction with the Catherine Opie retrospective also being exhibited, makes for a fun day at the museum. Instead of being boxed into to rectangular room and seeing things in gilt frames, you see Frank Gehry’s design fully exploited in this spiral-patterned fun house. Instead of being told where to look and how, you are let loose to participate and peek where you like. How refreshing.

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