Tino Sehgal at the Guggenheim

Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 3 2010 6:16 PM

Tino Sehgal at the Guggenheim

Performance artist Tino Sehgal's show " This Is Progress " opened to the press at the Guggenheim on Thursday, and to mark the occasion, the museum had stripped the walls bare. The Gugg was completely empty except for a couple engaged in a highly choreographed makeout session in the central foyer and a few parent-child pairs milling uncomfortably around the fringes. No official explanation was provided, but on walking up the museum's spiral, the exhibit's logic started to fall into place.  

Instead of being left to their own devices, viewers are quickly intercepted by an intrepid and very cute little kid who introduces himself and the show before inquiring about the nature of progress. From there, increasingly older docents, all of whom are dressed in street clothes, ask to hear your take on health care and government regulation. They are disarmingly earnest. Halfway up, while listening to a guy in his 30s spell out his thoughts about karma, I couldn't shake the impression that I was in a Richard Linklater movie. The core of the show is conversation, and Sehgal, a London-born artist with a background in dance and economics (go figure) puts the headspace of the Guggenheim to good use, taking the attitude of the well-behaved museumgoer as his weapon in a surprise intellectual inquiry. The overall effect is personal and fun, and has the added bonus of shaming those who like to "shush" chatterers.

I have no idea how the exhibit's going to work when faced with normal weekend crowds, but in a best-case scenario, the show could just expand naturally evolving from its set cast of kids, teenagers and adults into one where any visitor becomes an impromptu docent. That would be progress.

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