Tino Sehgal’s art comes to life at Blenheim Palace
The good news about my interview with Tino Sehgal, the British-born and Berlin-based artist whose notoriously sensual work has baffled many art lovers, is that he’s there, on screen, at on time and ready, as it turns out, for a heavy philosophical conversation about his new job.
Do not suggest that he is anything but completely professional in any of his transactions; it’s just that I remembered the first time I encountered his work, at the Venice Biennale in 2005, when I walked into his facility in the German Pavilion to be confronted with three uniformed security guards of the Biennale which immediately sang joyfully in my face: contemporary! Contemporary! Contemporary! ”Indeed it was, I thought, and marked Sehgal as one to watch.
The following year, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, another installation, another overwhelming experience: a nine-year-old girl, who told me her name was Devon, told me she wanted to interview me on the concept of progress. Before I could rally my answer, she passed me on to a young man, who passed me on to a middle-aged woman, who passed me on to an 81-year-old book guy who had been teaching physics all his life. life and wondered, he said a little heartbroken, if it was worth it.
These playful and profound works from the early years of the new century helped make Sehgal one of the most liberating figures in a contemporary art world, which looked to new commercial success and growing public interest. . Sehgal – a former dancer – countered this trend by creating work that involved no objects, just the unregulated, spontaneous results of random human interaction.
His subsequent shows, at the Guggenheim in New York, at the Tate Modern, at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, have played more widely with the evanescent dances of strangers. Sehgal’s contempt for the object extends to even refusing to publish catalogs for his shows. (I remember asking for one at the ICA lounge, to be told it didn’t exist, but I could pay £ 25 for the bookstore assistant to whisper a word in my ear, to which I whispered “No, thank you.”)
Expect more of the same, on an altogether grander and more lavish standard, at the 18th-century Baroque Blenheim Palace this month when Sehgal’s final piece is unveiled as the last of his commissioned program. seven years of the Blenheim Art Foundation. In terms of dramatic twists and turns, it has some form to live up to. Two years ago, a show by another maverick talent with intent to confuse, Maurizio Cattelan, drew unusually intense tabloid coverage when the artist’s 18-karat gold toilet, “America”, took off. been stolen, locked, flush and cistern, two days after the opening show.
Sehgal’s installation this year feels less like a deranged episode of Walrus, and more like something that would seem to correspond to strange times. A swarm of local residents, specially selected for the project, will interact with visitors in the park designed by Capability Brown, in what is described as “fluid and porous choreography”. Could there be a more resounding response to a year and a half of confinement than a celebration of the warmth of human contact?
“It has been my principle for 20 years,” Sehgal told me on a Zoom call from Berlin. (He’s of German and Indian descent.) “But after the first lockdown, even for me, when I had my first meeting with someone, I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can really feel what is happening here. I can feel the energy of that person, the soul. ‘ I didn’t know what it was, I can’t put words on it. But I realized that, more than ever, there has been a deprivation of exactly what I promote in my work.
Sehgal says he was inspired by the open natural spaces of Brown’s 2,000-acre landscape. “We had 100 years of white cube [of the art gallery]. We spent a lot of time in these white-walled spaces. But the older I get I feel like they’re basically modern in a bad way. I saw the park and, not that I’m familiar with landscaping, I thought, “Here’s a master at work.” I had the feeling I had when I first walked around Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim, and I haven’t had it since.
He says he sees Brown’s work as a kind of “duo” with the planet. “He doesn’t take a step back and say, ‘Nature is perfect, who am I? Nor does he say, as French gardening does, “humans can do better.” He said: ‘I am also part of the Earth. I can improve it, I can work with it, but I don’t have to reinvent everything, because what the Earth has to offer is already at a pretty high level. So his own intervention makes him a trio? “Ha! Yes, you could put it that way.
One of the beautiful things about Sehgal shows, I say, is that they make people smile. Part of the “This so contemporary” show in Venice involved actors offering visitors half of their admission price if they spoke to them about market economy. I tried to claim my refund, I tell her, but the receptionist told me they were “strapped for money.”
“It was a bit of a failure, then,” he said, a little cold. Wasn’t that part of the show? “No No No No. Sometimes things go wrong. He says he wanted this exhibit to be ‘happy’.“ I’m not the happiest person, ”he said. something that comes easily to me. ”
It’s part of Sehgal’s larger thesis on the art world that the idea of the lonely, passionate, vision-inspired (and mostly male) artist has pretty much run its course. “Part of the success of visual art over the past 200 years is that it has had a certain clarity, because these are individuals who express themselves in a fairly simple and short way. Now, he says, it seems the time has come to find smoother, more collaborative ways of describing the “complexity” of the world.
“What is individuality? It is the breaking of rigid bonds. We don’t want to be bound by our religion, our parents, our class, because they are holding you back. We’ve had a few hundred years of this. OK, now we can continue. But where do we belong? And where are we going? ” Hence Sehgal’s emphasis on speech, teamwork and questioning in his art. “It’s a little pathetic being this star hero,” he says of society’s enduring obsession with individual success.
Sehgal’s derision of material objects, and of the excesses of the capitalist economy in general, extends to his business dealings. The sale of his works, which allows museums and even private collectors to set up his “situations”, takes place without a written record of the transaction; the “contract” is based on the memory of the people present at the sale. And he placed strict injunctions on the photographs and films of his projects.
I ask Sehgal how important it is that he can sell his work. “It’s very basic. If you are doing something specialized, this specialized activity does not bring grain to your table in the morning. If you want to make this specialty activity your breakfast, you need to find someone, a few people, who is interested in it and who will pay you.
“I have the impression that people have a lot of cultural reservations against certain markets. On a superficial level, I understand this. But that doesn’t say anything about market transactions per se.
I finally ask Sehgal about his contribution to a newly published little book, 140 artist ideas for planet Earth, edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Kostas Stasinopoulos, which takes the form of a single unpunctuated sentence: “you do all that”. What does he mean?
“That you are a reality producer, not just a reality receiver. When you come to the museum, which is a highly legitimized ritual in Western culture, I don’t want to put you on the receiving end. I want to set up a game where you are also an agent. It’s always a vein in my work: that we, as individuals, as consumers, as human beings of the world, have the power. We too decide the course of things.
July 9-August 15, produced in collaboration with Marian Goodman Projects, blenheimartfoundation.org.uk
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