Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Say, do you happen to have the time?" See Marclay's "The Clock"
Christian Marclay. Detail of The Clock. 2010. Single-channel video with sound, 24 hours. © Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, proudly declared Christian Marclay's The Clock to be "one of the most coveted works of art anywhere in the world." This unique, 24-hour video installation, winner of the Golden Lion Award at the 2011 Venice Biennale, now belongs to MoMA's collection. The two men sat in conversation at MoMA's second-floor atrium to introduce a two-hour press preview of the installation.

A fast-paced montage of film clips--some obscure, others easily recognizable--The Clock draws from an international array of film, from the silent through contemporary eras, from Charlie Chaplin to Christopher Walken. This work of sly visual and sound editing unfolds real time before our eyes, each minute synced to our actual time and announced in exact order, each scene or image bearing literal and/or metaphoric connection to time and timepieces.

If you missed The Clock in its European presentations, in Boston or at last summer's Lincoln Center Festival, you've got another chance to catch it this winter from Decemer 21 through January 21, 2013. In addition to showings during public hours as well as some continuous screenings (see schedule here), MoMA will offer a special presentation of The Clock in its Contemporary Galleries on New Year's Eve beginning at 10:30am and running continuously through 5:30pm on New Year's Day. (Click here for information on after-hours admission.)

Marclay--an American-born multimedia artist, now based in London--edited film material, collected by assistants, over a three-year process he describes as "tedious but simple." He used sound to facilitate his enchanting transitions from clip to clip. For instance, for an illusion of continuity, he might overlap the native sound of one scene--say, the resonance of church bells--with the opening of the following scene.

How many discrete clips does The Clock contain? Marclay hasn't a clue and does not care.

"After I was done with the project, I didn't want to sit there and count them," he says. "All those statistics are less important than the actual experience."

That experience can be heady and surreal as well as richly entertaining. Images of clocks and watches, the ordinary and the ornate, alternate with motifs that suggest movement and speed (various types of vehicles) or the fluid possibilities of transition (entrances and exits; sleeping and waking; crossing a street; walking or playing on the sand at water's edge.)

Repeat viewers can tell you their favorite times of day. Moments of wit and humor or gripping suspense abound. Familiar actors and film scenes pop up, here and there, triggering memories that call up your personal experiences of time. Tension builds to a crescendo as the video approaches noon (as I witnessed today) and, reportedly, midnight. Around about the witching hours of three or four in the morning, Marclay says, "things get kind of weird."

Marclay suggests that The Clock is best approached and appreciated not as a marathon event but, rather, a work each viewer can tailor to the rhythm of his or her own life.

"You don't have to see it from beginning to end," he advises. "There is no beginning, and there is no end."

It took me a half-hour to figure out how The Clock was messing with my head--dazzling me while also making me feel antsy. Here's a video installation using bits of film to break amorphous time into its components, lining up each of those bits, one after the next, and insisting on giving each its visualized or spoken time-stamp. While cleverly celebrating the legacy and magic of cinema, The Clock resists acting like film--that is, it does not help us swoon and forget. It keeps us focused on the literal, linear passage of time. In that way it is, like Marclay's editing process, intermittently "tedious but simple," creating, even regimenting, a form of order out of chaos.

Arrive when you can, watch as much as you care to, and leave when it suits you. Each regular showing--free with museum admission--can accommodate 130 visitors and up to 170, if you include standing room.

A few important notes of caution, though. Prepare for a long wait to get in. MoMA promises live online reports on the state of the queue here and via Twitter @TheClockatMoMA.

Also, MoMA's sofas aren't particularly comfy--inadequate back support--but if you race in and grab a corner of a sofa, as I did, you might be able to angle your body in a way that will suffice for an hour or two. Sit on the floor, if you like. You can't bring drinks or snacks. Use the restroom before you enter the gallery; if you go out for a break, you forfeit your place. To re-enter, you'll have to stand on line again. Your youngsters might enjoy The Clock in intervals of reasonable length, but be aware that there is some profanity and nudity. 

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues), Manhattan

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