Klaus Biesenbach, Director of MoMA PS1 and Chief Curator at Large at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, selects five works that best exemplify love.
Michele Abeles—Man, Shadow, Table, Fan, Rock (2009)
Brooklyn-based photographer Michele Abeles, who will be included as part of the MoMA’s New Photography 2012 show in October, pairs quietly haunting still lifes with truncated male nudes. “Michele is an artist with whom I worked on the Greater New York exhibit [MoMA PS1’s mixed-media quinquennial],” Biesenbach says. “Despite my general rule that I always ask how a work is made and what the production process is, I have refrained from asking Michele in order to keep these mysterious works in the realm of secrets.” Of “Man, Shadow, Table, Fan, Rock,” Abeles, 35, will say this: “During the shoot, I played Usher on repeat, burned incense, and applied body oil to the model, who helped me cut the paper and apply it to the fan. After that I forgot there was another body in the room.”
Frances Stark—My Best Thing (2011)
With her latest video project, My Best Thing, Los Angeles–based artist and writer Frances Stark constructed a feature-length animated film using dialog from her own interactions in online video chat rooms. (Its title is a nod to how one of her online paramours described his penis—as in, “Want to see my best thing?”) Instead of showing poorly lit flashes of skin, Stark, 45, chose to re-imagine her exchanges using brightly colored, Lego-like avatars, which are seen alternately wearing briefs, covered with fig leaves, or naked. “My Best Thing visualizes, in a humorous but still serious way, dialogs that normally happen between chatters cruising the Internet,” says Biesenbach. “Specific tendencies, preferences, and fetishes depict versions of loneliness and longing, of contact and distance, exploration and caution, and casual commitment.” Stark, who came up with the idea when she found herself wasting time online, says, “I think it’s possible to be genuine and romantic when chatting online with strangers, but genuine romance is tricky because it’s associated with real-life pay-offs, involving real-life commitments and all the trappings of socially acceptable monogamy.”
Clifford Owens—Performance of Kara Walker’s Score (2012)
Last spring, 41-year-old photographer and performance artist Clifford Owens took over MoMA PS1 with Anthology, a mixed-media installation centered on scores—written or graphical instructions for actions—contributed by 26 artists. But it was Kara Walker’s set of commands—and her alleged last-minute withdrawal from involvement—that injected the show with a sense of infamy. Her score in full: “French kiss an audience member. Force them against a wall and demand sex. The audience/viewer should be an adult. If they are willing to participate in the forced sex act abruptly turn the tables and you assume the role of victim. Accuse your attacker. Seek help from others. Describe your ordeal. Repeat.” Says Biesenbach, smiling, “I don’t really want to add to the score by Kara Walker.” Uncomfortably physical, Owens’ execution of the scores called upon all five senses. “The scent of my sex, the texture and taste of my tongue, the softness of my skin, the ‘grain of [my] voice,’ and my image,” says the Queens resident, who insists that there’s nothing romantic about the nudity or sexual overtones of his work. “I don’t like the word ‘romantic.’ It’s as silly a word as ‘sentimentality.’”