Saltz: Completing Pipilotti Rist’s MoMA Installation

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Photo: Jerry Saltz

In the closing days of Pour Your Body Out (7354 Meters), Pipilotti Rist’s ravishing wraparound video atrium installation at MoMA, the place has been packed every day. Mothers have been making playdates in the atrium, letting kids run around while they gather on the large round couch. Visitors bring computers and work here, or listen to iPods, or chat or doze or read.

Last Monday I got an intriguing mass e-mail from the artist Cheryl Donegan and the poet Kim Rosenfield, announcing an unsponsored impromptu event called “MoMA Yoga,” led by Alexandra Auder. (Auder, a yogi, is the daughter of Andy Warhol’s superstar Viva and underground-video phenom Michel Auder.) I couldn’t resist. On Friday night, I arrived to find the darkened atrium teeming with hundreds of people; Rist’s wonderful droning, chanting soundtrack filled the air with drowsy delirium, and her images of gigantic naked floating bodies, lush undergrowth, and water filled the walls. A few minutes before the appointed starting time, a dozen or so people, almost all women, shed their coats to reveal workout clothes. At 7 p.m., the tall, fit, and charismatic Auder, outfitted in a gold-lamé leotard and striped leggings, announced that she was leading a free yoga class. She chanted three long loud oms and began.

The place went silent. Before I knew it, two Uruguayan girls sitting next to me leaped up and joined in, as did three Japanese women behind me. Soon a group of around 25 was following Auder from downward dog to little cobra to pigeon pose. Then Auder called for people to lie on their backs and try not to move a muscle. It became hard to tell the yoga class from the rest of the gallerygoers (except for the kid who was watching a music video on his iPhone). It took audience participation to a new level: doing nothing, absolutely together. At exactly 7:30, Auder thanked the participants, and that was that. By then the room seemed to have mellowed out in ways I’d never seen before.

I asked Donegan why she staged the event. She said it came from “feeling dissatisfied with the level of audience interaction with both the Rist installation and the ‘anyspacewhatever’ show at the Guggenheim.” She noted that both installations “combined video and carpets and pillows but seemed to ask nothing more of people than to recline and watch. It seemed way too passive.” Good point. Just then a guard came over, and I asked him if he had been inclined to stop the performance. He said “No,” adding that it had been a rehearsal for an organized event taking place on Sunday. “Actually,” he said, “the only reason I moved closer was because I though she [Auder] was naked and I wanted to get a better look.”

After the yoga group dispersed, I kept watching Rist’s artwork, stunned at what she had been able to do to this institution. I wished that her piece could be left here permanently. It would change life in this museum for the better. But all things must pass. Just before 8 p.m., we heard an announcement that it would soon shut down for the night. At eight on the dot, the sounds and images disappeared, and the atrium went back to being an enormous blank white cube. The viewers let out a moan I’ve never heard in a modern-art museum before. I realized it also sounded like om. It was beautiful. We’ll miss the Rist.