Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Know It All

I was going to learn a lesson. I could tell it by the way he approached me. Balding, spectacles, black jeans know-it-all.  He had been inspecting Barnett Newman’s Cathedra. He’d been staring at it a while, his glasses hanging sideways out of his mouth.

“There used to be a bench here where people could sit.” The museum guides continually complained when they came into the room turning to their groups to explain. “If you stand in front of it for a while, the painting changes.”

I’d done my Tino Seghal propaganda number twice since the man came into the room. Because people want to see the paintings, I refrain from singing the piece too much, butting into their inner dialogue only when necessary.

“She sang it 367 times.” A museum guard complained of a colleague on the Propaganda route. “Every time she sang it she clicked her phone to keep count.” This was a new colleague with a Japanese name. I wondered if those two bits of information were linked to the information gathering obsession. On a four hour shift I’m guessing that I might sing it 120 times on average, depending on whether it’s a busy day or not.  We don’t get paid for the number of times we sing the piece.

From what I have read and see, there is always a museum guard on hand nearby who can recognize the face of the perpetrator. Cathedra was slashed by an irate art gazer. “Here,” said a guest waving an arm to his friend, “You can see where the painting was damaged.” People come into the room especially to see the famous work that attracted unwanted media attention. Immediately after the traumatic event the painting was taken from the wall and laid on the ground in a quiet place to recuperate. With such care the museum eventually restored it to good health.  In the room devoted to 70’s minimalism the shimmering blue Cathedra does have a magnetic quality, especially compared to the other paintings. The solid grey painting, for instance, or the solid white one with some stripes of color near the edges.

“Propaganda,” the man said smiling down at me, we were alone in the room. “Rotates, moves on and on.”

I considered this. I always think of propaganda as a lump, a fly eating plant, sitting someplace dark and damp like inside a television set waiting for a victim.

“The word comes from propagare, that’s Latin.” He informed me, “One thing begets another.” Do plants inside televisions poop? I wondered.

“Perhaps that applies to humans who see it,” I replied, “Not the propaganda piece itself.”

“No,” he reiterated, “The word means that it compounds upon and multiplies itself.”

“Yes, of course, do take it away then.” We ended our conversation thus on a friendly note. The patrician smiled back at me as he moved into the even less interesting room with orange and green and grey hanging on the walls. “This is propaganda,” I sang as a piece of immaterial art hired for the half day. Was I the embodiment of propaganda or was the art on the wall the embodiment of the propaganda?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Back in Propaganda: 17 Sided

The museum guard examined Walter de Maria’s sculpture, a 17 sided polygon on the floor with a jeu de boule ball wedged in between the rims on the groove. He blew into the sculpture scattering small balls of dust.

“It’s over here now.” Noted his mate, another one of the guards, about the position of the ball. I wondered if the curators moved the ball every once in a while to stimulate the staff at the Stedelijk Museum.

My first visitor was an opera director I knew ages ago. Doing my little “This is Propaganda” routine, I sang at his back. He swung around and stared at me. “Persephone!” Well that was a warm moment.  “You ought to check out the ‘Selling Out’ when you have a chance.” Suggested an administrator of the Tino Seghal project.

I peeked around the corner and watched a dancer take off nearly all her clothes. She stuck her thumbs into her underwear and announced, “Tino Seghal, Selling Out, 2002.” She left her lacey black underwear on. She then wiggled into the guard’s uniform again, sock by sock.

So, I thought, that’s why people kept standing looking at me, expecting me to do more in my little routine. I felt a little pale by comparison. Back at base I stood in 1.8 and desperately desired to strike a da Vinci in the polygon. “Nude or not nude?” I wondered about the irregularity of body confidence.

Back In Propaganda: Untitled (Pajamas)

White cable sweater. Black skinny jeans. Comic hair cut on flat head. More art than the art the young man was examining, Agnes Martin’s “Untitled” was about as exciting as a pair of faded pajamas in comparison. The visitor was seemingly fascinated by the piece and his Rowan Atkinson body language validated his fascination; the overly large cable sweater stuck out at a funny angle over his small hips. 
I surveyed the gallery at the Stedelijk Museum. Once the room’s visitors were refreshed, dressed as a guard I could launch once more into singing Tino Seghal’s situation “This is Propaganda.”
“We’ll meet up,” an administrator emailed me, “And show you the new room.” It sounded challenging but the day I was due back on the gig was a Saturday morning and I had to find room 1.8 all on my own. Last time, in March, I had been surrounded by de Koning’s paintings and now I was set in the 1970’s minimalistic world.  I found 1.8 without a problem. It wasn’t like they stuck us in the closet, no, we were told we’d be heard all over the museum because we were now situated near the staircase.
In his bright orange tee-shirt painted “PAPA” by the hands of loving children, signed by all five of them, and a pink breast cancer support baseball cap, I couldn’t have avoided noticing the family pride as the man strolled about 1.8 taking in less visual noise than what he was sporting.  “Propaganda,” he said coming over to me. “That word made me notice the word. I like that.”
A half hour later he was back. “I can pace through time thanks to you.” He was determined to tell me in his Scottish accent, “I hear the echo of your voice in every corner on this floor.” Routine that was what it was, like those pale stripes on the wall. He must be a great dad I thought. Supportive feedback on every front.