Friday, June 12, 2015

Philippe Parreno at the Armory—Ghosts of Broadway

There are many worse ways to spend a half day in New York than absorbing Philippe Parreno's multi-faceted installation at the Park Avenue Armory, on view through August 2. The idea that it's a love letter to the city crept up on me, despite the city's monogram being embedded in the title—H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS, 2015. (It's pronounced "hypnosis.") Indeed, the exhibition's power has grown in my mind during the days after seeing it.

The drill hall is divided into a nave-like space by two columns of Parreno's marquee sculptures, suspended works that mimic the portal fixtures above Broadway and smaller theaters, collectively entitled Danny The Street. Where the apse should be stands Bleachers, a rotating accretion of stepped seats, evoking similar casual step seating at Times Square and the Highline. On the three sides of the apse hang huge screens, which move up and down, onto which New York-themed films are projected. (The films were not screening while I attended a preview. Subsequent photos show their importance in the environment.)

Ann Lee. Photo: Susan Yung
An LED panel work, Ann Lee, sits among the marquees. It—she—comes to life periodically in an animated manga avatar, whose words are eerily parroted by human girls performing throughout the space. The character was purchased several years ago and "employed" by various artists, notably Tino Sehgal, co-credited on this piece. Ann Lee is a symbol of collaboration—programmed, at rest, or animated.

Photo: Susan Yung

Yet another important dimension to the installation is music, at a preview performed player piano style by Mikhail Rudy on three grand pianos. The selection includes pieces by Scriabin, Wagner, Feldman, and Ligeti. Other sound/music was composed by contemporary musicians for the marquees, which pulse on and off in rhythm with the compositions. It is worthwhile to park yourself on one of the many benches or chairs and observe as the environment's components sync and the lighting increases and diminishes, as daylight does. When the space is at its darkest, a haunting evocation of the bygone city emerges, like a lively and twinkling Broadway ghost town that operates on its own; people are merely observers.

Admission to the exhibition is $15, which is in keeping with the going museum prices, but high when compared to the thousands of galleries in the city which charge no admission. Still, there is more than enough content in the Parreno show (the artist guessed that it might wind up at five hours) to justify the cost and time invested. And the Armory continues to mount work unlike any in the city—more along the lines of an installation at a bienale, and with great thought given to the complex context. 

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