I stand at the mouth of the gallery. It gapes.
And still I stand. I have been hired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to announce each patron’s name as they walk in.
“Yi Sun Kim!”
A litany of sounds. Mostly they’ve stopped holding meaning. Mostly, they never had meaning in the first place. As patrons enter, they are either excited or annoyed. Occasionally, an old man, and it is always a man, will refuse to give their name. Occasionally, children will translate for their immigrant parents. But most people are not here to see this gallery; most people wander in, looking for the Samurai exhibition next door, or the American Nature exhibition beyond it. Only the real hardcore art nerds are here for Pierre Huyghe.
They stay for hours and come back day after day.
Huyghe is a French artist. He is famous, apparently, mostly for his experimental videos. I had never heard of him before I auditioned for and obtained this gig to participate his retrospective. I quite like the exhibition. It’s a weird labyrinth of false starts, with plants growing from the floor and fish tanks with prehistoric creatures rising like monoliths to drowned gods. There is a floor made of black ice and a video of a glacier as well as a complete climate system producing ice, water, and vapor.
But mostly people are here to see the dog, a white dog with a pink leg. She is very beautiful. But she is also just a dog.
Her name is ‘Human.’ hahaha.
There are other things in the gallery you might like, though maybe you will not think they are art. There’s a playable Atari game on the ceiling. A pitch-black room of transcendent music with a miniature stage light show in the center. Various pictures and video include humans wearing animal masks, and animals wearing human masks. You can see an emancipated fictional character. Installed are fragments of walls, just walls, imported or recreated from the retrospective’s past iterations.
There’s a grungy ecosystem, with actual water lilies from Monet’s garden.
Sometimes, a man wanders about, wearing an LED light mask, accompanied by his dog.
A displayed poster of today’s ‘celebration’ changes each day.
And this is part of the point. This retrospective alters hour by hour, and demonstrates no easy chronology. It is an event, an ecosystem, a meditation on and deconstruction of time, the subconscious, and man’s relationship with the environment. On one wall at the entrance, the artist has bored through the paint to reveal the walls of the previous three exhibitions that inhabited this space.
And still I stand at the mouth of the gallery. Green neon flickers on and off behind me. Ants crawl out of a diagonal wall that juts into the space. Or they are supposed to… They seem to have grown lethargic and have stayed inside the walls for a few days now. When the neon isn’t on, the gallery looks closed, as if under construction. People pause with uncertainty at the entrance to inquire if they can go in. “Is it open?”
I have a feeling of eternity. That existing in a museum for too long grows you as timeless as the art. It stretches you out across eons in glass boxes. I am the ferryman, demanding two coins of each of the dead to cross the river Styx. “May I please have your full name?”
First and last name. Coin one. Coin two.
Sometimes cool things happen. People will applaud for strangers as they come in, or greet them by name. That creates moments of connection, of changed relationships, of urban intersections. Mostly, people just walk in, a bit confused.
Many ask, “Why?”
I tell them what the artist told me when I auditioned: “To be announced.”
There are no tours of this gallery, not officially. But the guy who gives tours to Jim Carrey and Brad Pitt and various major donors when they come through, that guy draws a lineage to surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp and the idea of the spectator completing the artwork. It’s not about a specific thing hanging on a wall, it’s about how you engage with it. I kind of love that. But then, I’m a theatre guy…
And still I stand, announcing names. Perhaps even this state of perpetual, unbearable boredom is one of the artist’s pieces. Perhaps he truly is a genius. It’s the state of life, unveiled, stripped of cocktail parties and discreet tasks with beginnings and ends that mean something. A state as constant and unchanging as breathing. If so, then each guard is performing their own durational work, standing for eight hours a day, six days a week, 52 weeks a year, for $11 an hour, in a museum.
Sometimes, people ask to take pictures of me, but not of them.
Report by Brian Sonia-Wallace.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.
Exhibition runs through February 22, 2015. Closed Wednesdays.
Tickets & info: (323) 857-6000 or online.