Performance Watching Man
Performance at the Guggenheim Bilbao
In a large hall at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, there are more than a hundred screen prints by Andy Warhol, entitled Shadows. Andy Warhol did not speak much, he is known for short quotes and looked as he shoots a film or taking a polaroid. He was an observer.
Watching Man is also an observer. Especially here. He announced to the curator of the Guggenheim, Petra Joos, that he would hold this performance here. Performances in museums happen more often. For example, we Knowing Marina Abramovic at the MoMA with The Artist is Present. Watching Man does more than be present, he observes, studies and takes photographs.
Petra Joos wrote back to him that the application to the Board of Directors had been discussed and that only the approval of photography was denied. Nobody, not even Watching Man, is allowed to photograph the rooms where work hangs. Why? Don’t the artists like publicity? What does the Guggenheim board interfere with? Okay, in museums with classical art, photography is sometimes banned because an accidental flash could affect the paint. This is not delicate antique work with peeling paint. Stone, acrylic, plastic and thick steel by Richard Serra. It's really absurd. And, even if it is a house rule, I can see countless visitors taking photos on their phones. The photography ban is not a Guggenheim Foundation rule, because you can in New York, just as in virtually all other museums in the world. Five years ago, the Spanish Government considered a ban on photographing police. Is it a rule because it used to be a rule? Does the ghost of Franco still haunt Bilbao?
Then somebody tapped Watching Man on his shoulder. A young visitor introduces herself, Sonia Camera. She also has a camera and asks if she can take a photo of him in the jacket bearing the text Watching Man. Of course she can. An attendant looks uncomfortable at the house rules being ignored here.
Later, Watching Man is standing in the largest gallery filled with a permanent work by Richard Serra. The Matter of Time is impressive. Evelien walks around it. You cannot take photos here either. Watching Man stands between the massive steel plates. He first touches the plate, and feels a work of art in a museum. That should not actually happen. He looks at the five-centimetre-thick rim, and braces himself firmly. With the flat of his hand, he delivers a firm blow against the side of the steel plate. He imagines he can see the vibration, but he can certainly hear it. An extremely low tone gently fills the vicinity of the plate. Nobody notices, because the echoing buzz dominants the low frequency. He walks along the plate and twenty metres further you can still hear it resonating. It is a heavy sound, almost inaudible heavy steel. What a relief. Evelien comes back again, and it is still buzzing.
’Can you hear that?’ I ask.
’That heavy droning?’
’Yes, very softly.’
The attendants and visitors in the room do not notice, because they are making their own buzzing sounds. It is still buzzing, ever more softly.
Photo2: Richard Serra, a matter of time, Guggenheim Bilbao
Photo 3: Guggenheim Bilbao