Welcome to This Situation

Alan Gilbert reviews Tino Sehgal’s New York solo debut, in The Village Voice:Gilbert

Like many Sehgal titles,This situation both identifies the piece and literally describes its enactment. At random moments, the players flatly state in round- robin fashion: “Tino Sehgal.” “This situation.” “2007.” Previously “shown” in Berlin (where Sehgal lives), it’s the first New York City solo exhibition by the young global-art-world star. Much of Sehgal’s work combines his earlier studies in dance and political economy. The results are pieces such as This is good (2001), which required gallery staff to repeat the title while waving their arms and hopping on one leg; This success, also titled This failure (2007), in which children played games in a bare gallery, stopping to declare whether or not they thought the work was a success or failure; This objective of that object (2004), which featured five people chanting: “The objective of this work is to become the object of a discussion”; and This is right (2003), in which two kids describe Sehgal pieces available for purchase.

With its refusal to produce a material object or employ self-documentation (no photographs, no videos; the gallery won’t even distribute a printed press release!), Sehgal’s work might seem to function as an obvious critique of a market-driven art world gone gaga over commodities. Yet Sehgal’s work is for sale—though only through an oral transaction made in the presence of a notary. As Sehgal declares in interviews, he’s not interested in starving to prove a point. Besides, his interest seems less in overthrowing a system, whether aesthetic or economic, than in undermining it from within—however slowly, i.e., one word, one conversation, one social interaction at a time. But perhaps this form of institutional tectonic-plate-shifting is what’s required for fundamental change to take place. Or maybe it’s a subtly subversive talking cure for whole ecologies—artistic, human, and natural—damaged by overproduction and material consumption.

[H/t: Maeve Adams]