Making Art Out of an Encounter

Our own Asad Raza spent the last year producing this exhibition of an artwork by Tino Sehgal. Arthur Lubow writes about it in the New York Times Magazine:

ScreenHunter_08 Jan. 16 09.17 Although Sehgal was very busy, thriving in the incubation culture of art fairs and international exhibitions, he did not surface in New York until his inaugural show at the Marian Goodman Gallery in November 2007. This time when I walked into the exhibition space, I had more of an idea of what to expect, but once again I was knocked off-balance. “Welcome to this situation,” a group of six people said in unison to greet me, ending with the auditory flourish of a sharp intake of breath; then they slowly backed off, all the while facing me, and froze into unnatural positions. At which point one of the group recited a quotation: “In 1958, somebody said, ‘The income that men derive producing things of slight consequence is of great consequence.’ ” Jumping off from that statement, the conversationalists — Sehgal refers to them as “interpreters” — began a lively back and forth. Occasionally one of the six might turn to a gallery visitor and utter a compliment or say, “Or what do you think?” and then incorporate that person’s comment into the exchange of words. Mostly they seemed content to natter at high velocity among themselves. It all continued until the moment when a new visitor arrived, an event that acted as a sort of rewind button. “Welcome to this situation,” they chanted again, breathing in and backing off as they had done before and then assuming another stylized stance. A new quotation was dropped and another discussion commenced. Just as in Berlin, I felt a battleground developing in my mind, between a fascinated desire to stay and a disquieted urge to flee.

ScreenHunter_09 Jan. 16 09.24 If you are not a devotee of the cult of contemporary art, especially its Conceptualist cadre, you may feel a whirring sensation beneath your eyelids starting up right about now. Your skepticism isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a matter of “Is this art?” Almost a century has elapsed since Marcel Duchamp aced that one by attaching titles to everyday objects (a urinal, a bicycle wheel) and demonstrating that anything can be art if the artist says it is. Nevertheless, the ineffaceable critical question remains: “Is it good art?” Later this month, when Sehgal’s one-man show takes over the Guggenheim Museum’s rotunda for a six-week run, thousands of noninitiates, many no doubt having come to see the Frank Lloyd Wright building without any advance notification of what art exhibitions are on, will be able to decide for themselves.

If the overall response to “This Situation” at the Marian Goodman Gallery is any guide, even some who expect to hate Sehgal’s work will leave enthralled. “I often see shows I don’t like, but this was the only show I’ve ever seen that didn’t like me,” wrote New York magazine’s art critic, Jerry Saltz, judging “This Situation” to be the best exhibition he encountered in 2008.

Much more here.