Walking in from the bitter cold, the throngs that came to Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist’s opening at MoMA last night were greeted by a luxuriant blast of summer. The entire second-floor atrium was bathed in a seamless video installation of people cavorting in a verdant flower patch, doing graphic, sensual things with dirt, tulips, worms, and fruit. In the center of the room, Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk had long stood, a circular cushioned seating area ringed by white carpeting was patrolled by guards who made guests remove their shoes before entering; blissed-out art lovers lay there, letting the video — emitted by bulbous projectors protruding from the wall — wash over them, while a baby in a pink knit cap crawled around in the black center. The overall effect was of being in the middle of a peach or, as not a few noted, a gigantic vagina.
“The thing about Pipilotti is that justice is not served unless you see it dominate you,” said artist Aaron Young, who was mingling with the crowd. “The environment that she creates completely dominates you and you feel like you’re seduced.” “It’s exactly what I needed today after toxic stock markets and attorney generals and Iraq-war stuff,” said Rufus Wainwright, who was mingling with the crowd. “It reminds me of a more positive, sixties and seventies psychedelic kind of lifestyle, which we need more of.” Klaus Biesenbach, the show’s curator, and MoMA director Glenn Lowry — decked out in an orange scarf — played host as art-world figures like Jon Kessler and Roberta Smith (naturally with her husband, New York’s Jerry Saltz) took in the show. Meanwhile, Rist, a sprightly, childlike woman in rectangular glasses, was being mobbed by fans at the base of the stairs. When a reporter offered to lead her outside for a smoke, she bent into a low crouch and grabbed the back of his jeans in order to be led through the crowd undetected, like a submarine.
“It’s actually an eye,” Rist, safely outside, said of the show’s circular seating area. “The white is the eye white and then there’s the iris and the black is the pupil. The projectors are a prolonging of our eyes, it’s a collective view.” Known for short-form videos featuring herself, sometimes nude, she recently completed her first feature-length film. “It’s about unnecessary fear, a girl who gets lost from her grandmother to free the world and herself from unnecessary fear, and sometimes she succeeds and sometimes not, and then she’s looking for friends,” she explained, somewhat helpfully. “There are particular fears like hypochondria and gender negotiations, negations, and then they find the right color and with this color they free the world from unnecessary fears.” Soon enough, a clutch of people including the painters Marilyn Minter and Brice Marden spotted Rist and surrounded her as she smoked, praising the show and receiving passes to the after-party at Pravda. “They love me because of the work and I’m not identical with the work,” Rist reflected. “They don’t love me, they love the work. That’s much better.”