Arts & Culture

Time traveling at the Modern Art Museum

Rirkrit Tiravanija is known for gallery openings that are orchestrated happenings, or what are now called RA, relational aesthetics. RA is a mashup of the artist-in-short-residence as the drawing card, in an environment of user-friendly works made of common materials that often have an anti-establishment vibe.

The emphasis of RA is on the viewer’s experience and the crowd interaction, such as the time Tiravanija cooked Thai food for all the guests at a gallery opening. At another opening, he had a T-shirt factory busy cranking out printed T-shirts, $20 each, while patrons waited. Among the T-shirt sayings: “Iran, Iraq, Ikea, I’m Busy” and “I Have Donuts at Home.”

In another New York gallery exhibit, he built a plywood replica of his apartment, Untitled 1999 (Tomorrow Can Shut Up and Go Away), which was open 24 hours a day, and soon attracted students who lived there on display.

Sadly, that is not the case with his Focus show at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The artist was here briefly, and then he was gone, back to one of his homes strategically situated in New York, Berlin and Bangkok. Tiravanija lives in the world; he doesn’t just travel in it. His art practice has become global, and he flits from one venue to the next, no longer needing to stay and feed his audience.

He was born in Buenos Aires in 1961; his father was a Thai diplomat and the family lived in Thailand, Ethiopia, Canada and Germany. With that kind of upbringing, he continued to travel. Even Tiravanija’s art schooling took place in four cities — New York, Chicago, Ontario and Banff, in Alberta, Canada.

One of the pieces in the Modern’s show is pages of his previous passports and visas that have been replicated in copper plates, untitled 2013 (passport to the middleworld). A long table supporting copper rectangles breaks through both side walls of the gallery, as it is too long to be contained in one room.

The spindly table, purple cloth, ragged wall holes and a grid of officially stamped entries and exits is a travelogue of time. The wall breaking lends a sense of infinity. The time of travels has been before, it is now, and it will continue.

Tiravanija has mounted three works that are time relational. Another work that takes more space than the gallery allocation is a week of pages from The New York Times. Section fronts and backs are glued to linen boards and are overlaid with the words “FEAR EATS THE SOUL.” (The text is lifted from a 1974 Ranier Werner Fassbinder film, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.)

The words overprint the slick, colorful advertising, which wraps around gruesome news of the 2011 shooting of former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson. The week spins out with Giffords updates and follow-up stories about the politics of gun control and mental illness. In untitled 2011 (fear eats the soul, January 8, 2011-January 14, 2011) avarice plays next to fear mongering with a side of sensationalism.

The seven panels of days step along the walls, following the line of the passport pages, and they, too, seem as if they could, and will, go on indefinitely.

His third piece, untitled 2014 (equanimous) (portrait, Antoinette:1:25:07), is a video of the artist’s wife, Antoinette, meditating for an hour and 25 minutes. The camera pulls in tightly on her face; her eyes are closed, and only occasional tiny muscular twitches indicate she is alive.

If visitors are inclined to follow Antoinette’s journey of meditation, they might see more than twitches — perhaps a deep breath that might have the impact of a car chase, or they might witness a scene-stealing shiver.

Antoinette seems like she can go on meditating forever, and while she does set a quiet, contemplative tone, wouldn’t it be great if she sneezed? Or if the spindly table collapsed and all those copper plates went crashing to the floor?

This whole affair seems poised to be the quiet before the storm. Or maybe that is just my relational aesthetic.

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