The difficulties in giving justice to the crossover between music and art as a visual exhibition are clearly evident in “Björk,” MoMA’s retrospective of the prolific Icelandic musician opening in New York City this Sunday, March 8. The show was conceived and organized by Klaus Biesenbach, Chief Curator at Large at MoMA and Director of MoMA PS1, who, beginning with Kraftwerk in 2012, has made ambitious advancements in creating an immersive sound experience in the museum’s physical space.
For “Björk,” a two-story structure was built specifically for the exhibition’s needs. A location-based system developed by Volkswagen’s Electronic Research Lab guides the visitors through an audio tour in the upper level. A biographical narrative, written by Icelandic poet Sjón and accompanied by Björk’s music, is tailored to each viewer’s preferred timing. During this tour, which can take as long as 40 minutes if desired, viewers walk among memorabilia from Björk’s performances and videos – such as the “All is Full of Love” robots made in collaboration with Chris Cunningham and the “Pagan Poetry” Dress designed by Alexander McQueen. The visuals, objects, and costumes of her past work are placed on view through the many mannequin versions of Björk, most often set against a black backdrop – making the figures feel more like extracted historical artifacts than expressive characters.
On the lower level of the structure, a 10-minute video of “Black Lake” is projected in extreme wide frame on both front and back walls of the chairless room. Directed by Andrew Thomas Huang and created in collaboration with the 3-D design firm Autodesk, “Black Lake” was commissioned by MoMA and shot in Iceland. On the lowest level of the museum, four musical instruments from “Biophilia” are on view and programmed to play sound.
For all the magic that Björk has created over her nearly 38-year career, the retrospective “Björk” lays flat in comparison. There is the novelty of seeing her video’s characters in the flesh. But even with her personal journals showcased on pedestals, the show does not feel intimate because it fails to evoke the otherworldly disorder and fascination that are at the core of her oeuvre.
“Björk” is on view starting from March 8 through June 7 at MoMA.