I Sing the Body Electronic:
If Night at the Museum 3 were set at MoMA last night, the Schlemmers and the Charles Rays and a bunch of other objects that celebrate vehicles, robots, and other hyper-modernist devices would have been dancing in the balconies over the atrium as Kraftwerk launched its eight-night retrospective.
The exclusive, lucky, and/or GIF-adept crowd, which strangely (or not) barely moved, gamely donned their white 3-D glasses to see projections of bikes, trains, and the beloved Autobahn that launched a thousand rock bands and dance parties as the band played the 22-minute title track from that groundbreaking album, amidst selections from their catalogue.
And while the concert highlighted Kraftwerk’s “historical contributions to and contemporary influence on global sound and image culture,” as MoMA puts it, it also happened to recapitulate central themes of the museum’s own history—from early machine-age design to the high-tech innovations showcased in recent exhibitions like “Design and the Elastic Mind” and “Talk to Me,” which boldly went where no art museum had gone before in exploring our relationship to our ever-evolving devices. That sensibility, championed by curator Paola Antonelli, was underscored as hashtags, among other logograms and punctuation signs that have acquired new meanings in our electronic age, floated evanescently over our heads (though disappointingly, the @ sign, a recent MoMA acquisition, didn’t make an appearance).
The event also solidifies the role of MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach as a stager of must-see spectacle, a cultural impresario on equal par with the artists he presents. Like LACMA director Michael Govan, who turned the slow movement of a rock on a flatbed trailer into an international news event—while Michael Heizer, the artist responsible the piece, stayed home in Nevada—Biesenbach became for the public face of the concerts as the reclusive musicians kept, as always, to themselves. The retrospective, the must-see event of New York’s cultural season, was hardly accessible to most, given the paucity of tickets and the way they were offered. Still, it broke new ground for the institution. And somehow or other those electronic drumbeats must have gotten infused in its bones.
Kraftwerk, Performing at The Museum of Modern Art. PHOTO + WORLDWIDE 2012 © by Peter Boettcher