Attending cultural events usually makes me feel like a real jerk. My friends calmly discuss the show and praise the work, while I'm rendered inarticulate and foul-mouthed by indignation that such atrocities merit a museum show. My relentless negativity doesn't prevent me from enjoying art shows, though; they give me an opportunity to rant. Tearing apart a mediocre show for anyone who'll listen is almost as much fun as seeing a really good one.
Tino Sehgal's solo show at the Guggenheim circumvents either variety of enjoyment: it's a lousy show, literally devoid of art, yet I'm unable to rant about it. What can I say? Wright's beautiful building is completely empty. The viewer walks up the spiral, encounters a series of people employed to make chit chat, and arrives at the top after a few minutes, having seen all Sehgal has to offer. That's it. You talk to a few people, they ask you vaguely significant questions, and you're done.
Using children and personable strangers is a devious tactic to deflect criticism; I feel guilty hating the show because the kids were so cute, and the conversations so pleasant. I talked to a precocious young man about verbs and nouns, and tried to convince my second guide to watch the movie Cube. But I have interesting and thought provoking conversation with strangers all the time, and it only costs one ride on the subway, rather than $18. I go to a museum to escape the ordinary, and see or feel something exciting and unusual. Sehgal's show was little more than extension of the subway ride to get there. Even worse, it was a wasted opportunity to engage a spectacular space. Artists like Matthew Barney and Cai Guo-Qiang transformed the spiral building to create unforgettable spectacles, but Sehgal flattens it into a big sidewalk.
So much more exciting than chatting with kids.
Cai Guo-Qiang at the Guggenheim
Matthew Barney at the Guggenheim
Of course, art doesn't need taxidermy and explosions and vaseline to be good, but a gaudy spectacle is better than nothing. Sehgal's references are just so dull and tired. Relational aesthetics is a lazier redux of the institutional critiques made thirty years ago. Ultimately, I don't care what statements Sehgal thinks he's making. I don't want to waste my time and money on an empty museum.