by Genna Rivieccio
Björk is rarely one to disappoint when it comes to titillating the senses. However, it has to be said that her retrospective at MoMA, entitled simply Björk (though there is a portion called Songlines you need a separate ticket for), manages to feel like a deflated boner or weak orgasm. Maybe it’s the lack of cohesion–the way different facets of the exhibits are cordoned off from one another–or the fact that Björk, in spite of having an intensive breadth of work, is too young and therefore too full of more great works to showcase in the future to have a retrospective so soon in what promises to be an even longer career (we’re talking Madonna style).
The first introduction to the exhibit begins in the lobby, with a handful of instruments that are placed in a cursory manner that seems to have little consideration or thought put into presentation. Then, while you wait for your time slot to get into Songlines, you can watch a lengthy video rendering of “Black Lake,” one of the many epic songs off Björk’s latest album, Vulnicura. Once you’ve seen Björk pound her chest with the agony of someone experiencing the highly unwanted emotion of having a broken heart amid the rough terrain backdrop in this video, you can then pack yourself into another darkened room that reeks of other people’s bodies to watch her music video collection on the big screen. Notable videos from the collection include “Army of Me” and “All Is Full of Love.” Some were even so moved by the artistry of her videography that they felt compelled enough to bring along a sketch pad to draw images from the screen. And, perhaps in this way, there is a very interactive quality to the exhibit–though it is what you make of it; otherwise it’s utterly static, particularly if one is viewing it as a non-fan/stodgy museum-goer.
At this point, you will have killed about thirty to forty-five minutes and will hopefully make your way into Songlines right on schedule without having to pretend like you’re really interested in seeing something other than Björk (because if that’s what you came for, let’s be honest, in that moment, you’re not going to give a shit about anything else). You will be told that you can only walk ahead without turning back in the exhibit as you move from room to room, as this is a representation of being unable to move anywhere in time other than forward.
Beginning with Debut, the album that set Björk apart as a solo artist from The Sugarcubes, the exhibit reveals glimpses into Björk’s artistic process via journals featuring ideas and lyrics that would eventually become the songs that have inspired and resonated with millions (if we’re going by album sales). Each room represents an album and era in Björk’s career–though it seems bizarre that the infamous swan dress is catalogued in between Debut and Post in spite of the fact that Björk sported it at the 2001 Academy Awards–well after both of the aforementioned albums were released.
The Homogenic room, displaying paraphernalia from what is arguably Björk’s best album, is the most videocentric, with a moving image of the album cover and a robot display extrapolated from the video for “All Is Full of Love.” We are then taken through the Vespertine and Medúlla rooms, with the shift in our movements detected by the headphones we’ve been given to listen to the ambient narration of Björk’s life and career.
It isn’t until the Volta room that we’re jolted out of our semi-bored coma to remember, “Oh yeah, I’m at the Björk exhibit.” Vibrant and color-rich–like the album cover itself–the Volta room is easily the most memorable. Then comes the final room, if you can call it that, which features another one of Björk’s illustrious costumes.
While this retrospective is theoretically brilliant on paper, actually seeing it makes you realize that MoMA was too reliant on Björk as a name that would attract casual museum-goers and therefore decided that a pristine execution of the curation was unnecessary. And this is rather unfortunate, as Björk–and her fans–deserve better.