What’s behind curtain number one?! Despite the cliché, game show connotation this phrase evokes, it is the very notion that incites the excitement for “Sum of Days” by Carlito Carvalhosa, the current multi-floor installation at the Museum of Modern Art. It fills the entire multi-story second floor lobby of the museum with a billowy, white iridescence. If you choose the explore the museum chronologically by starting at the top and working your way down (although it is MoMA, so whichever way you wish to delve into the collection is entirely your prerogative), you see the mysterious mass floor after floor, and anticipation builds. As you get closer, you hear muddled sounds and your curiosity peaks further. You notice that there is a line to enter the installation and you begin to grow nervous. What could this possibly be? It’s strange to be scared in a museum—well, aside from seeing a sea of uniforms and realizing that you accidentally came on a school field trip day. You start having flashes of Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” at check your abdomen for protruding shards of glass. The noise builds as it is finally your turn to enter—and then you are emancipated from your anxieties as you realize it is a sheet hanging from the ceiling. Sorry, it is two sheets hanging from the ceiling.
If I am horribly misinformed about some underlying magnificence that this piece embodies, independent of scale, please let me know. But my friend and I buzzed through the “elliptical labyrinth” faster than ABC cancels their entire fall lineup or a Teen Mom violates the terms of her probation. It has a vague reminiscence of playing in the curtains of the living room as a child, but even that got boring after about three minutes. I suppose part of the novelty of the piece is that you can touch it and truly interact with it (I for one have always dreamed of curating a ‘Scratch & Sniff’ exhibit—not one focusing on stickers but instead where you could touch the objects), but again, this is two sheets of fabric, not a shoe that’s just a squiggle or a chair made of plush toys. Conceptually, it works—if you can figure out what that is without reading the wall text. However, a mere cogent believability after reading the description is not a success if the perception of the viewer is nowhere near the desired interpretation and is rather a state of pure confusion.
The component that really jarred my experience was the added element of sound, which unfortunately is the crux of the meaning of the piece. Music or noise is not frequently incorporated into exhibitions at art museums, and when it is, it primarily serves to supplement or complement the visual piece. However, in this instance, the sound seemed to be more a distant, discontinuous cacophony that was not integrated into the empirical product. No, it’s not supposed to be communicating intelligible or articulate thoughts, but the layering of days—as it was supposed to be—just reminded me of a Futurist orchestra. Its clunky loudness contrasted awkwardly with the ethereal glow of the fabric.
I guess to quote an astute professor of mine would be most appropriate: “MoMA does it the way MoMA does things.” Whatever they do, they’ll always be cooler than you, and you’re an uncultured moron if you don’t get it. But that is Contemporary Art anyway, right? It’s also part of what makes it so amazing.
Suggested wine pairing: Hmm…this one’s hard. Conceptually it feels like a red, but if you spilled it, it would be like spilling red wine on your mother’s living room carpet or Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. Still, let’s go with it.