The wildly anticipated Björk exhibition opens at MoMA this Sunday, which is a sentence I still cannot believe is true. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Björk. If any musician’s oeuvre could be transformed into a compelling, convincing museum show, it would be Iceland’s most glorious weirdo. That said, the MoMA’s Björk extravaganza is evidence that a musician’s oeuvre really has no business at a modern art museum. Art snobs and tourists alike (the show likely caters to the latter) will, unfortunately, feel underwhelmed by the multi-multi-multi-media Björk experience.
Curated by Klaus Biesenbach, PS1 Director and MoMA’s celeb ambassador (he counts James Franco, Patti Smith and Lana Del Rey among his BFFs), the show took three years to develop. At its heart is “Songlines:” a 40-minute long multi-sensory journey through everything Björk (don’t worry, it doesn’t actually take 40 minutes. American museum goers are impatient and will rush you along in about 20. Most are just there to Instagram a picture of the swan dress anyway). Visitors don headphones, attached to an iPod-like device which communicates via Bluetooth with the exhibit to advance through her catalogue of albums as you progress through the show.
Notebooks, outfits (the Marjan Pejowski swan dress, the Alexander McQueen bubble dress, and the Biophilia tour dress by Iris van Herpen, amongst others), videos and music video props are on display. Because the guards and guests usher you through at a hastened pace, the sonic element is confusing and disorienting (wait a minute, the gentleman on the headphones told me to take my time!). And in the end, one feels utterly dissatisfied (“I waited in line for 3 hours for that?!” … I was at a press preview, so I didn’t, but presumably others will). Perhaps a documentary would have been a more effective way to visually and sonically tell Björk’s story. “Songlines” is multimedia for the sake of multimedia at its finest.
Meanwhile, on Floor 2, there is a 10-minute MoMA-commissioned piece entitled “Black Lake.” As far as I can tell, it is a glorified music video release (hey, we do those too!). Two massive screens depict Björk dancing her way through a cave while music pulsates from a bajillion surround speakers. The song is utterly beautiful (most Björk songs are), but the result is far from extraordinary. At the press preview, Björk introduced the piece in that adorable little Icelandic squeak of hers. Unfortunately that won’t happen for the regular folk who line up for 10-minutes of uninterrupted Björk.
Ultimately, Björk at MoMA is a failed experiment and, sadly, a massive waste of space at a museum that has one of, if not the most impressive permanent collection of modern works tucked away somewhere out of view. Björk at MoMA is best saved for when your folks come to visit.