But Where’s Björk?

IMG_6110“It’s oh-so-disappointing,” laments The Economist. “MOMA’s embarrassing Björk crush,” snarks The New Yorker. “A beautiful. ill-conceived disaster,” says TheAtlantic.com. With such universal disappointment surrounding MOMA’s Björk exhibition having built up since its March opening, I finally went along to see if I could find a way to disagree with the masses. I like to do that. It feeds the obstreperous in me. A cheap enough thrill but you should try it. Just say the opposite of everyone else and stick to those guns. Tell me how it feels.

I should preface the following by saying that I was the guest of a member and paid $5 instead of the regular $25. I should also add that I have almost all her albums and spent my early 20s in an obsessive fog over Björk. Her mohair sweater on the album cover of Debut accessorized with a lone crystal trembling on each eye’s lower lashes, before she was even a blip on fashion’s radar, is a style happening on a par with Tom Ford’s first collection for Gucci.

I strap on my headphones and enter the first room––more like a holding area, really, than a room. Björk’s voice and the soaring strings of Venus as a Boy erupt in both ears and fill me with joy. Although the voice of some other storytelling Icelandic dóttir pipes up, translating Björk’s life for the listener into a sort of fairy tale: “A girl was born in a hut in a field full of lava…” I want to ask this gatecrasher to leave.  Björk’s fairy tale doesn’t need further fairy telling.

So I ignore her. It’s easy enough to do.

Boots by Walter Von Beirondonk

Boots by Walter Von Beirondonk

IMG_6101

A wall of sound in your ears

The entrance of each holding pen (MOMA you cannot get away with calling them rooms) bears the title of one of her seven albums. Inside there are notebooks and props from her videos. The accompaniment in your headphones changes automatically when you cross the threshold of a new album. Björk blinks oddly from the Post album cover but gets the better of me when I try to video or photograph it. She wins the staring contest and only blinks when I move on.

The airmail jacket from Post by Hussein Chalayan

The airmail jacket from Post by Hussein Chalayan

Bjork's books of notes and music

Bjork’s books of notes and music

In one of the displayed notebooks I see she writes the words of a song in a column, one on top of the other, a totem pole of words. If any other writer did this, I might find it contrived but the way Björk approaches music, it’s seems authentic. She who sings of nothing special, just love and loss and the everyday human experience, but who is so free of rock and roll cliché in her lyrics, her appearance, her femininity, that I cannot hear anything bad said against her. Luckily no one who criticizes this exhibition has turned on Björk. They are united in the opinion that MOMA has failed her.

Anyway, I’m in the Vespertine room now and the music in my ears continues spliced and soaring, her voice, strings, synthesizer. It’s a case of over stimulation and I’m loving it.

Music and ribbons

Music and lyrics…and ribbons

The robots from All is Full of Love

The robots from All is Full of Love

Incidentally I will be learning to crochet over the summer. Dare I hope to create something like this, but smaller…a tea cosy?

mask from

mask from Volta, Icelandic Love Corporation

We move to another floor and into a black room (this one counts as a room) and the doors are closed. On wall-to-wall screens, Black Lake, a 10-minute video created especially for the MOMA exhibition is played. Björk, now 49 years old, tramples across a barren post-apocolypic landscape, looking beautiful and tragic in a copper coiled dress by Iris Van Herpen. She agonizes in song over the break up of her 11-year relationship with artist Matthew Barney. It’s heart wrenching to watch. She puts everything into it, beating her chest and shaking her head free of the feelings, her face wan, her frame broken, until the very end when she walks away from us barefoot across a causeway in a gossamer multi-winged dress towards something hopeful.

Powerful.

Alexander McQueen dress from

Alexander McQueen Bell Dress

Now this is how you wear McQueen couture--with hiking boots

Now this is how to wear McQueen–with hiking boots

The last room of the exhibition is arranged with soft red backless sofas. Inside here all of Björk’s music videos play on a 2-hour loop on a cinema-sized screen. Viewers sit, lie flat out, or perch on the floor  while immersing themselves with surround sound, and enjoy the gorgeous collaborations that accompanied her songs over two decades. It’s glorious decadence to watch music videos as an art form again instead of something worthy of a hasty squint on Youtube in between checking your blog stats or Facebook posts. I stayed for over an hour gaping at the screen with a stupid smile on my face. Although lying about, many people couldn’t help bopping their heads or tapping their feet. I wanted to dance.

...to those people, I say

…and to those sorry individuals, I say “Go lay an egg!”

For some Americans, this seems to be the extent of their awareness of this world renowned, groundbreaking musician

For some Americans, this seems to be the extent of their awareness of this world renowned, groundbreaking musician…

Now back to that totem pole of words for a moment. I think that points to what is missing from the exhibition that got everyone so riled up. The woman behind it all is absent. The requisite peep into artist’s soul, the grand reveal of her motivations, inspirations and influences, the method behind her madness, the key to her craft. Well, truth be told, MOMA doesn’t reward us with any of that. For $25 some people might have assumed they were being promised the magic formula when all they get is to sample the deliciousness one more time.

I feel sorry for them. I’m still licking my lips.

Headpiece by Shaun Keane

Headpiece by Shaun Keane

IMG_6128

no

IMG_6098

go

Color me Bjork!

By Bernard Wilhelm

By Bernard Wilhelm (the Bjork heads were questionable, I grant you)

Dress Iris Van Helpern from her latest, Biophilia

Dress Iris Van Herpen from Bjork’s Biophilia

No better way to conclude than with this beauty by Alexander McQueen… IMG_6139Bjork continues at MOMA until June 7th. Forget the naysayers and go see it!

13 comments

  1. I haven’t always loved Bjork’s music but I have always respected her groundbreaking creativity. To imagine what she must hear in her head is a project unto itself. I worked on a couple of her albums (can I even use this word anymore?) and, in person, Bjork is as quirky and mysterious as you might imagine her to be, as if she lived in a world all of her making. Maybe that is why the exhibition has such a hard time pinning her down. I was sad to see how it was reviled.

  2. Thank you for a peek at this. I am giddy with anticipation as I am going to see her at Wilderness festival in August. Just Bjork, me,woodland,lakes and a few more devotees I guess. Xx

    • I am curling at the edges with jealousy! It sounds divine. She held a sell out show here at Carnegie Hall a few months ago. I’m such a snail. The tickets were all gone before I’d even made it to my computer. Everyone raves about it. I could kick myself…in fact just did, there.
      Will you post about it?
      xo

  3. How can you pin down a real butterfly? Very jealous.. xxx

  4. I think that I will take a meander over to MoMA and take a “looksie”. Lived in Reykjavik for a couple of years–very interesting.
    Björk doesn’t really look Icelandic at all~

    • Go take a gander, D. You lived in Reykjavik? How interesting. You are a dark horse. We were thinking of going to Iceland for our (belated by 2 years) honeymoon…but went for Nova Scotia instead…I know, the similarities! Should we have stuck with Iceland..?

  5. Thank you for sharing the exhibition. I love looking at the costumes. Good luck with crocheting ;p

  6. Should be interesting. I’ll keep you “post”ed 🙂

  7. We were discussing with Dievca how different this exhibition must be as opposed to Paul Smith’s, were, as Dievca said, ”they opened up his archives but also his heart and soul”. As for Bjork, I think it’s almost impossible to capture this amazing creature. Well, at least, MoMA tried and I would have gone anyway, even if only for that room with the giant screen. Not to mention the otherworldly costumes or the milky robots from All is Full of Love… Thank you for this great visit – and for adding a voice of reason to the general brouhaha!

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