Michael Wolraich's picture

    Art Review: theanyspacewhatever at the Guggenheim, New York

    When you enter the Guggenheim from now until January 7th, the first thing you will notice is a blindingly gaudy marquee seemingly hung over the entrance by glowing blue chains. Frank Lloyd Wright was not available for comment at the time this article was written, but there were reports of muffled banging heard in the vicinity of his gravesite. The marquee was designed by artist Philippe Parreno. It's a fitting introduction to the Guggenheim's new exhibition, theanyspacewhatever, for three reasons:

    1. It establishes a cinematic motif, to which the exhibition's title is a reference and to which many of the works pay homage.
    2. It lacks text, presenting a blank slate for visitors to project their own subjective ideas.
    3. It's pretentious as shit and not particularly engaging.

    The exhibition consists of a series of works by ten artists, who pointedly describe themselves not as "colleagues" but "friends." The title, theanyspacewhatever, is taken from a phrase which was coined by French anthropologist, Pascal Augé, and repackaged by postmodern French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze. As described in the press materials:

    ...the term "any-space-whatever" is used by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze to describe a cinematic trope of essential heterogeneity--a "singular space" in the film defined by multiple perspectives in which linkages among constituent parts may be made in an infinite number of ways. Therefore, the "any-space-whatever" is a filmic realm that represents a "locus of the possible."  In its application as an exhibition title, the term suggests the idea of a coherent space comprising multiple and shifting views that nevertheless coalesce to invoke the idea of pure potentiality.

    Got it? I'll try to help you unpack that. "Any space whatever" is a translation of "espace quelconque." Some things just sound better in French. When Pascal Augé coined the phrase, he meant,

    ...a space such as a metro stop, a doctor's waiting room, or an airport terminal. It is an anonymous space people pass through...a point of transit between places of 'importance', such as the metro, which is merely the space one passes through between home and work.

    Deleuze appropriated the term and applied it to modern cinema in which a standard narrative is eschewed in favor of seemingly unconnected events and cinematic moments, as in films by Michelangelo Antonioni. These unconnected moments, severed from time and space, were to Deleuze opportunities for viewers to insert their own subjective ideas to bind the moments, that is to say the "any spaces whatever," into a meaningful, coherent whole.

    Thus, the works exhibited by the artists are not meant to relate to one another in obvious or conventional ways. They are meant to provoke the visitors to insert their own ideas into the "moments" in such a way that they comprise a subjectively meaningful whole. Kind of like Mad Libs.

    But Mad Libs is a lot more fun because it invites the insertion scatological references which are inherently funny, at least when you're 10. More specifically, the works in this exhibition are so disparate, thematically and--because the Guggenheim is too large for the limited content--geographically, that it fails to provoke its audience, or at least failed provoke me, to bother trying to connect them. Which is a shame because what the Guggenheim is great for, indeed what it was designed for, is linear continuity.

    In any case, you have three options for exploring the exhibition:

    • Boldly march through without guidance and comhrehend almost nothing. Be warned, descriptive synopses of the works are notably absent. If your brain works like mine, you'll likely have thoughts like, "hmm, a weird quote...ah, a rotating bed...look, televisions...how much further to the end?"
    • Take the recorded audio tour written by artist Philippe Parreno and narrated from memory by the world memory champion, Boris Konrad. I bet you didn't know that there was a world memory championship. This tour wasn't available at the opening, but it's reportedly cryptic.
    • Take a half-hour guided tour from a script-reading guide who seems to know little and care little about the work.

    I recommend the script-reading guide who will at least offer you information that you can make sense of. Or if you like, you can follow my brief synopsis of what was presented to me by my script-reading guide, along with few tidbits from my research.

    Starting at the top...

    Angela Bulloch built an L.E.D. powered "night sky" into the museum's oculus to "play with time and space," turning the building into a re-creation of a Roman pantheon, or at least what a Roman pantheon might have been like if it had had a hole in the roof and if the stars visible through the hole had resembled L.E.D.'s. Alternatively, you might see a bunch of lights against a black background that appear vaguely star-like. (Update: I've been informed by a commenter that the Roman Pantheon does have a hole in it. My bad.)

    Carsten Holler created a "fully-functioning hotel room" (the guest suite at the pantheon), complete with minibar and other accouterments. The hotel room is distinguished by the fact that the bed and other large pieces of furniture rotate slowly on large glass discs, giving new meaning to the term, "bed spins." The gimmick is that you can actually rent the room for a night, from $259 for students on Mondays to $799 on holiday weekends. Checkout time is 8 a.m. No pets. The guide assured me that the security camera over the bed would be turned off. But if you really want to do the wild thing in a giant, slightly creepy, exquisitely architected cavern (with colorful L.E.D. stars), you're S.O.L. No vacancies.

    Rirkrit Tiravanija's Cinema Liberté projects films that have been banned in various countries. No popcorn, but there is an expresso bar. Tiravanija was described is a "generous" artist. In a previous installation, he cooked for his visitors. If you enjoy watching pretentious artists bloviate about the significance of their art, Tiravanija has also generously created a feature length documentary in which the participating artists are interviewed about their work. You can watch the documentary further down in the exhibition, seated on a pillow on a buddhist-monk-orange carpet. It's free.

    Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's shielded off a section of the Guggenheim's uninterrupted balcony to create a corridor and "tropicalized" the space by projecting sounds from audio speakers which, to my untropically-trained ear, sounded like white noise. The work, Promenade, was inspired by a busy street in Tokyo which is temporarily closed to traffic on weekends and becomes unusually quiet. Unfortunately, the shields and white noise do little block the ambient sounds, so rather than transporting you to the remote tropics, Promenade transports you to a dull, white corridor in the middle of the Guggenheim. (Update:  Moment Ginza,

    Jorge Pardo interrupts your journey with a series of cardboard screens that force you on a winding path. This exhibit is interesting in that it successfully slows your pace dramatically. That's great if you're trying to kill time while your companion sits through the documentary, not so great if you just want to get to the end. Unfortunately, the screens are not particularly enthralling. A series of crab-shaped lamps that vaguely resemble the plastic primates of the Barrel of Monkeys game are interesting but quickly become monotonous. You can stop to peruse the Journal officiel de la République Française, the official gazette of the French government, or marvel at the "hilarious" ingenuity of a poster with the words, "I went to the Guggenheim museum and all I got was this Richard print."

    Throughout the exhibition, you will see many "unsettling phrases" by Douglas Gordon on the walls. A few examples:

    • There is something you should know
    • I remember more than you know
    • It's better not to know
    • Those I would like to know
    • Those I would not like to know
    • They always knew
    • It's not you, it's me
    • If only you were hot, or cold. But you are neither hot, nor cold. I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. (Update: Thanks to reader Alina who corrected my New Testament ignorance. This is passage is Revelation 3:16, a somewhat lurid condemnation of mediocrity. "Vomit" has also been translated as "spit" and "spue." I prefer "spue" because to me it conjures up that memorable scene from the Exorcist.)

    All these quotes, by the way, have been used in Gordon's previous works, many of which were Bart-Simpson-style prank phone calls and letters. In that context, they would have been entertaining. On the walls of the Guggenheim...meh. That's "any space whatever" for you. On Halloween, Gordon will also present the movie Pscyho slowed down so that the whole film takes 24 hours. No intermission. My advice: try to time it for the shower scene. Gordon has done the Psycho piece before too, by the way. I suppose that if you call your work a "retrospective," you can get away with recycling old material. I wonder if the other artists are pissed.

    Finally, two works that I genuinely appreciated. Liam Gillick hung a number of elegant aluminum signs which appear forward and backward, depending on which way you're looking, from the ceiling throughout the exhibition. Some of them present esoteric gibberish, e.g. "Disintermediate Now." Others are practical, e.g. "This way," "Halfway," "Unisex Bathroom," and my favorite, "Complete." Gillick also designed the aesthetically interesting S-shaped benches that pervade the exhibition and complement the curvature of the space.

    And finally, best in show by "prankster and provocateur," Maurizio Cattelan. At the bottom of the exhibit, a larger than life Pinocchio figure floats face down in a small pool. This one finally succeeds in provocation. Did the late puppet hit Holler's mini-bar too hard and tumble drunkenly off the balcony? Or maybe Gordon's teasing sent him into suicidal despair. Perhaps he tried to run past Pardo's cardboard screens too quickly and catapulted over the edge. Or maybe he smoked Brazilian ayahuasca in Gonzalez-Foerster's "tropicalized" promenade and decided to fly. Murdered by Roman assassins in Bulloch's pantheon? Hit his head on one of Gillick's signs? Allergic reaction to Tiravanija's expresso? Who am I missing? Oh yes, Parreno's blank marquee. It's the set of Pinocchio 5: The Reckoning. There, I did it. What do I win?

    P.S. Careful (or compulsive) readers will note that I only mentioned nine artists. Pierre Huyghe created a booklet about the exhibition, a copy of which I glanced at fleetingly and tried to take home for careful inspection until a security guard informed that I must replace it on the stack but could buy one in the gift shop. I guess that Huyghe isn't a "generous" artist.


    How long did it take you to go through this exhibit?  Thank you for defining anyspacewhatever - very clear.  The rest of the commentary was refreshingly direct and lacking in any inane 'artspeak'.  Now, I just took a little break from my own comment on your comment and searched for other comments on the exhibit.  This was a very interesting thing to do because after 20 minutes of flying through the net your blog is the most extensive and clear review of this exhibit to date.  Actually the only one. The NYT piece is just a lot of talk about how the show was brought together (or not brought together - whatever) and the other links just parroted the Gugs own posting.  I'm impressed and you should be too!


    Thanks, Splashy. I went through the exhibition twice, first on my own in the dark with a headlamp--some special thing for the opening--and then in the light with a guide. Both took about half-an-hour. I expect that a Deleuze scholar who happened by this review would be disdainful of my brief explanation of the concept of "any space whatever," but at least it offers a sense of what he's on about, which is more than either the artists or the museum deigned to provide. I was also surprised by the lack of substantive reviews, but the exhibition just opened on Friday, so perhaps we'll see more soon.

    Your review is still 4th when googled - art review: theanyspacewhatever (5pm 27th).  Here is a link to a commentary about the shows make up - not quite a review but interesting.


    And yes the show just opened it is still headlined at the Gugg, so why aren't there more reviews?  I still say good work and I look forward to more art show reviews from you.

    very nice job on the art review. more thoughtful and entertaining than the exhibit apparently. and yet, strangely, your review kinda makes me want to see the thing for myself ... just to make sure youre not being your overly negative g-man self (mr. that game sounds boring)  ...

    btw, also a good change of pace for the blog, tho im wondering if this review isn't somehow a form of anyspacewhatever between the political posts ... no, seriously, i am now getting a post-nov. 4 vision of dag ... and it ain't so bad ...


    Nice send-up, Genghis.

    Curious: no mention of the performance piece either in the NYT or here.

    Hey there, McBay. Welcome to Dag. I decided not to review the performance piece, since it was it was over by the time I wrote the review and because I had a conflict of interest. But for the record, Gonzalez-Foerster collaborated with Ari Meyers on a performance associated with the opening and inspired by 70's science-fiction film, Soylent Green, which I haven't seen. As with the main exhibition, the piece comprised a number of disconnected "moments." The most interesting and intense of these was last, in which Meyers conducted a gradually diminishing symphony orchestra. Each musician silently slipped offstage as Meyers conducted, eventually leaving gaps in the piece as Meyers gestured towards an empty violin section. Finally, Meyers himself left, leaving only a bassist who played a few more notes in time with a silent symphony and then shuffled off with his instrument. Not with a bang but a whimper.

    I believe that Myers will involved in another performance piece associated with the exhibition, but I have no information on that.

    I saw this exhibit on Nov 22, 2008.  I was never so bored in my life.  Maybe the space here is in the minds of the exhibitors.

    And my favorite: If only you were hot, or cold. But you are neither hot, nor cold. I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. (Ed. Talk dirty to me, baby)

    This quote is from the Bible.....

    Thank you for the explanation, Alina. Makes more sense now. I'm going to have brush up on my New Testament.

    respectable attempt at the angry young man (let me guess, you like oil paintings?) however, sarcasm is only biting if it's accurate, so i mention the most glaring of your rhetorical inventions, for three reasons:

    1. Audioguide II was Parreno's work, not Gillick's

    2. the (not a) Roman Pantheon does have a hole in the roof...it's the eye of the oculus

    3.Gonzalez-Foerster's Promenade was conceived as a tropicalization of space, revisiting a discourse of Latin American modernism.  the Tokyo boulevard work (not a tropical city, by the way) was Moment Ginza, a 1997 group exhibition in Grenoble

    however, you won your bet...we didn't know there was a world memory championship, because there isn't.  Konrad is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, as is Parreno's piece, because Konrad bested his previous time reciting the work.

    Thank you for the corrections, if not the condescension. Mea culpa on 1 and 2. I blame 3 on an uninformed museum guide. As for my winning bet, there is actually a world memory championship, and Konrad was the champion in 2008. Next time, let's both hire factcheckers.

    But let's get to the heart of your sarcastic critique of my sarcastic critique, implicit in the snide "oil painting" and "angry young man" comments. I appreciate the Deleuzian objective of allowing museum visitors the space to form their own interpretations, but this exhibit went well beyond that objective--presenting the art in a decontextualized space and obscuring any contextual information that visitors might have used to form their interpretations. Most of the pieces were, in a word, opaque. And now you seem to be blaming my failure to engage with them on my ignorance and lack of appreciation for anything other than oil on canvas, explicitly articulating the condescension implicit in the exhibition.

    Art need not be democratic, it need not be understood by everyone, and it certainly need not be understood in the same way by everyone. But when the art seeks to deliberately obscure its meaning--bewildering casual visitors, amateur critics, and hapless tour guides--then what has it accomplished?

    PS For the record, I am neither angry nor young (alas) nor particularly enamored of oil painting.

    But when the art seeks to deliberately obscure its meaning--bewildering casual visitors, amateur critics, and hapless tour guides--then what has it accomplished?

    Its primary goal?

    Yeah, there's definitely art that exists to disorient, but I think G might be asking to what end this effect is sought.

    I suspect it's to make its "tribe" feel superior. Tongue out

    Heh.  Perhaps.  Then again, provoking disorientation isn't necessarily a self-serving agenda in art.  Take, for instance, the film Memento.  Since I'm not sure whether you've seen the film, and don't want to give anything away in the case that you haven't, I'll just refer to the manner in which the bulk of the story is told, which is backwards in ~5 min. segments.  This puts the viewer in the same shoes as the main character, who can't remember anything that happened more than five minutes ago.  Until the final act, the viewer has no knowledge of beyond five minutes prior either.

    Disorientation is not the problem. I left Memento dying to resolve my disorientation. It provoked me. The anyspacewhatever did not provoke me nor my companions. There was no puzzle to solve.

    To be fair, post-modernism is not about puzzles in the classic sense. According to post-modern principles, there is no meaningful answer to what a piece of art really means. The interpretation of art arises from the relationship between the work and the viewer. But the anyspacewhatever failed, in my opinion, because it did not effectively engender any relationship at all with the audience. The artists explicitly asked viewers to form relationships with the art and then closed off our options for doing so.

    Don't get me wrong.  That's exactly what I got out of your review in the first place.  I didn't mean to imply that you weren't allowing for the distinction.

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