Art Critics Hate Björk’s MoMa Retrospective
Björk isn’t a visual artist, but she’s conducted her entire public life as if it’s a piece of theatrical performative art. So it made sense last year when New York’s Museum Of Modern Art announced that it would stage a grand Björk retrospective. That exhibit opens to the public this weekend, and as it turns out, art critics absolutely fucking hate it. Looking at reviews of the show is like reading about art-world versions of Hot Tub Time Machine 2. Most critics don’t mind the idea of it, but they hate the execution with every fiber of their being. Here’s a sampling.
Vulture’s Jerry Saltz:
It’s a discombobulated mess… The halls, where you will spend the vast bulk of your time, are lined with pictures from the albums. There is one pillow-laden theater that screens Björk’s music videos. In another, a ten-minute work commissioned by MoMA is displayed. Unfortunately, this work is not yet up to museum or gallery standards. [MoMA chief curator at large Kurt] Biesenbach is no idiot, but the show is “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Even, I venture, for fans… The Björk show is another self-inflected wound in the most important institution to Modernism on Earth.
The Guardian’s Jason Farago, who at least allows that the show is “worth seeing”:
It is a weirdly unambitious show, with definitely, definitely, definitely no logic… It’s one part Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exercise, one part science lab, one part synesthesia experiment, one part Madame Tussaud’s parody – but it is not two parts anything. What are its aims? I spent hours in it, and more besides with the catalogue, and I still don’t know.
ArtNews’ M.H. Miller:
I felt sad and embarrassed leaving the museum. Embarrassed for Björk mostly, who deserved better than this, but also for MoMA… “Black Lake” isn’t a “new immersive music and film experience,” it’s a music video. “Songlines” isn’t an “experimental sound experience,” it’s an audio tour. And the show is hardly a retrospective — it’s starfucking, something increasingly familiar at MoMA, and a failure even at that.
The New York Times’ Roberta Smith says the show “reeks of ambivalence”:
Björk should have said no — not because her work isn’t museum-worthy but because, as proved here, the Modern is not up to the task. The show is billed as a “midcareer survey,” but its disappointing catalog indicates little of the research, documentation or context setting that such projects usually entail, and the exhibition hasn’t been allotted much more gallery space than one of the museum’s “projects series” showing work by emerging artists. Given the number of Björk fans it will probably attract, the show’s future as a logistical nightmare seems clear.
Our beloved former Stereogum colleague Claire Lobenfeld reviewed the show for FACT, and she seemed to enjoy it a little more than the art critics: “Cohesively, if you start with ‘Songlines’ and make your way to ‘Black Lake,’ a romance from its wide-eyed beginning to its molten end fully comes together… Björk, as a whole, is an exhibition about processing, and it works best if you give yourself over to it and allow yourself to process, too.”