The rotunda gets naked

Walk into the Guggenheim on January 29th and you will not see a single piece of art. In fact, it was difficult to find an image to use for this post because, for the very first time in its 50 year history, the Guggenheim is taking all the art off the walls of the rotunda to prepare for the coming of Tino Sehgal. Sehgal’s work is some of the most clever use of what we might call formal art space, meaning galleries, private collections and museums. Some of his previous exhibitions have taken place at the Tate, the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the 2005 Venice Biennale.

So how does art that is ephemeral, that is not centered around a physical object, that requires only a specific kind of environment to function yet is bought and sold for thousands of dollars just like a painting – how does it work? In Seghal’s “This Is New” a museum attendant shouts out headlines from the day’s newspaper at visitors and the shape the piece takes from there is based on the visitors’ responses. The same principle is at work in “This Success/This Failure” in which children play games without any objects and occasionally engage with visitors. It’s up to the children to decide when the game is over or when to move on to a new visitor and a new interaction. In “This Is Good,” a museum attendant repeats the title of the piece while waving his or her arms and jumping excitedly from one foot to the other. In “This objective of that object,” five people surround a visitor, facing away from them and chant, “The objective of this work is to become the object of a discussion.” If the visitor says nothing the five sink slowly to the floor, and if the visitor engages the piece takes on a whole new shape.

Sehgal hasn’t yet announced what he’ll be staging at the Guggenheim, only that two pieces will take place simultaneously around the rotunda. After a little hunting on their website, however, I found a casting call for young boys age 8-12 that has since been taken down. Perhaps a “This Success/This Failure” redux? Whatever the case may be, you can be certain that audience participation is not just encouraged, it’s required.

Tino Sehgal at the Guggenheim, January 29 – March 10, 2010