Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Waiting for Gelitin : Open Thread

Francesca Gavin offered a thoughtful essay on "The Art of Waiting" over at what I still insist is the very best art blog of any major newspaper, The Guardian's. Of course the notion of queuing takes on a whole other dimension in Britain (I remember a series of cartoons advertising to Germans, encouraging them to visit England, with one showing a group of Londoners happily lining up, in a circle going nowhere, just because they could).

The gist of Gavin's post is as follows:

We live in a world of increasing speed and immediacy, but a strange phenomenon has been growing in the art world - delay. There has been a rise in art installations and exhibitions where gallery-goers have to queue to see the work. Eager audiences line up and linger to get a glimpse of an art work at the end. Perhaps surprisingly they often wait rather patiently - as if the soul-fulfilling piece at the end makes the delay better.
Gavin lists a few recent examples in Britain, but we've seen a few here this side of the pond as well (the queues for Gelitin's interaction at Leo Konigs' a while back being high among them in my memory, but then I tend to break out in hives at the mere thought of a queue, so I don't keep an ongoing list and tend to try to visit blockbusters during off hours).

Gavin continues:

Why are we waiting? Is this delay tactic a way of forcing us to spend more time with the art work rather than the average number of seconds? After waiting to see a work, there's a natural bloody-minded desire to really look at it, even if just to spite the rest of the queue behind you. Perhaps some artists or curators feel that the art should be viewed in a less crowded space, but is it better art if you have to wait to see it?

Blockbuster exhibitions have exploited the drama and hype of the queue for years. It's also not only an English phenomenon: in France, people will quite happily stand in line for an exhibition for up to an hour if there is cultural enlightenment at the end. Maybe waiting adds something to the whole sense of pilgrimage. Just be warned: it's only a matter of time before some installation or performance artist transforms the queue itself into part of the exhibition ...
When I think of people who will happily queue up and patiently wait, like the British or the Russians, they tend to be folks who experienced great scarcity of staples (because of WWII mostly) within recent memory. While visiting Leningrad (during the days of the USSR), we happened upon some folks queuing up, with one woman joining the queue first and then asking what it was for. This linkage of need and patient queuing may offer the most insight into why art queues are so well-behaved generally. Which lends credence to this interesting comment on Gavin's thread:
we are queueing because we have been taught that we are impoverished. We have been made dependent upon entertainment, whether it be low or high brow. We have been taught to crave. Our experience of 'the great' has to be had elbow to elbow with countless other impoverished souls. We no longer exist inside ourselves, but rather as part of some dislocated, disassociated mass, but well-healed, nevertheless.

There's possibly also something to the idea of this good behavior being mostly due to the widely held notion that viewing art demands a certain decorum (which owning a gallery, I wholly support, mind you).

But this notion that anticipation adds something to the eventual art viewing experience...I can't decide. I like to think that the most powerful artwork would stop you in your tracks were you fleeing a burning building. But does indeed a bit of the drama of a queue cleanse the visual palette, so to speak? We go to great lengths to clear away everything but the art in the white cubes we call galleries, facilitating the experience of coming upon the work with no other distractions. Does waiting merely give one time to clear one's mind of the myriad daily concerns? In the end, I think not. I think waiting just sucks.

What do you think?

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3 Comments:

Blogger Carla said...

It fires up the Hoosier redneck in me. I become suspicious I'm being had by some snake-oil art salesman, get agitate by the impending BS, and usually jump out of line.

So I suppose it's a self-revelatory experience.

5/30/2007 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Americans are fantastic queuers, also. I actually think we've got the British beat. I spent many years observing Line Behavior and I find it fascinating. Also interesting is attempting to short-circuit Line Behavior in myself. For example, next time you're on line (New Yorkers always get on line, not in line) and the person in front of you shuffles forward a few inches, try and stop yourself from doing the same. It's fun.

At the DMV in New Jersey they've elevated waiting to a science: You wait in one main line to find out which sub-line you need to wait in to be told where to sit to wait for your name to be called. My wife and I were waiting in the main line and a pair of Chinese women came in and went right over to this woman at a desk who only talked to people following the main line.

"Don't you see that line over there?" the desk woman said, her voice filled with the great indignation only civil servants can truly muster.

I wanted to point out to her that lining up -- queuing -- is a cultural thing and not universal at all. The Chinese don't line up. Arabs don't line up. (In fact American soldiers, among many cultural misunderstandings, have had trouble with Iraqis who refuse to form neat lines. I read a story of one group of soldiers detailed to hand out relief supplies who freaked out when they were surrounded by the shouting crowd of natives and high-tailed it, leaving the goodies to be taken later by some of the ubiquitous men with guns.)

But Americans don't realize that lining up isn't instinctive to the human race.

I remember the line for the Matisse/Picasso show at MoMA in Queens. It was ENORMOUS. It was, like, Rolling Stones concert tickets enormous. My wife and I despaired, until we saw a small sign saying we could buy a year's family membership to the museum and use the Members Only Line, which was actually a wide-open doorway. Blackmail! We paid the $125 or so and got in. I used it for a few free movies in the following year, but that was all.

More recently, there was that Spring Street graffiti weekend. I was shocked to find a huge crowd like I'd never seen in New York, like one of those ones in the Spider-Man movies, all gawking and taking photos and clogging the streets, in addition to a massive line going around the block. On a whim I called Pretty Lady who told me she'd just been informed that she was two and a half hours away from getting inside while the show was due to close in an hour. She left the line and we went looking at hats in Union Square.

5/30/2007 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

Hilarious really. The other morning we walked past people lining up to go for brunch...meanwhile we had passed two gorgeous patios, empty less than a block away.

I wish the people lining up to look at art were also taking local art work home with them from local galleries.

I think this waiting has more to do with the idea that you "just wait" lots of people populatin...the more people want the same experience maybe...therefore to wait. Maybe it's like a communion with others?

I've waited in lines...for concerts and for famous court cases. There is a commraderie that occurs under stressful line ups. We ordered pizzas on our cell phones together, shared ways to get comfortable took turns guarding each others stuff for washroom visits...?

5/30/2007 03:46:00 PM  

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