We went to the Bjork show at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC a few days ago, and it was so disappointing it kind of was like a dream, like one of those abysmal, banal dreams you don't write down and only half-remember, blurry and a little worthless but also full of strange feelings that aren't really attached to anything specific, just in a stupid dream and then not. I read all the reviews before we went, and just about every visual art critic in the city panned the show with such brio and sinister joy I truly wanted to prove them wrong. I'd read a bunch of crap about the David Bowie museum show from a couple years back, and when I saw it in Toronto it was brilliantly what it was: an exhaustive fan-letter, a scrapbook of ephemera, clothes, video, everything Bowie presented in such a blatantly superfluous manner you could only get caught up in the gloriously stupid and heartfelt celebration. So the critics were wrong.
But damn are they right on this one.
This Bjork gig is not heartfelt or stupid or joyous. It's just a sleepwalk of a thing, with some mannequins wearing Bjork-face standing around in her costumes in front of oddly un-meaningful backdrops ("un-meaningful" almost to the point of being bad jokes: see above), with an accompanying headphone Euro-trash narration written by some Icelandic poet and spoken by some Icelandic speaker that tries to make Bjork into a bland feminist galactic/volcanic myth, but all of it kind of fades away as you walk through feeling sunk and tired and just well disappointed.
Bjork definitely needs to record a cover version of Leiber and Stoller's "Is That All There Is?," and that sucker needs to playing on a loop for the duration of this sad little adventure.
The scale is wrong. It's small without being intimate, which makes everything feel cheap. And even in the dinky "auditorium" showing the MoMA-commissioned Bjork video for one of her newest songs, a romp through a volcano that ends with our girl slapping herself really hard on the chest (the one great image in the whole she-bang), you feel claustrophobic, as if Bjork is a genie that the curators somehow managed to shrink back into a bottle. What a depressing feat.
Maybe a museum show for Bjork was just a bad idea in the first place? One of the great things about her is her insanely beautiful opacity, her ability not to be a human while being one, that little-girl-getting-a-spanking face, those kitty-cat eyes that seem forever to be boiling over into laser-beams, that squeaky voice collapsing earthquakes and spider-webs and satellites and murderous-screamings into tones and melodies from an outer-space too dreamy and fucked-up to be sounds... She's poetic without poetry, mysterious without mystery: she just is. A museum show tries to nail things down usually, but a really bad one like this uses thumbtacks and Scotch-tape. What needs to happen with Bjork perhaps is a show that helps to obscure her, release her from costumes and cheap vignettes into a realm beyond institution and showing. She needs real grandeur I think that isn't about "knowing" her, or "understanding" her, but somehow being attached briefly to her (for lack of a better term) "star."
You don't get that kind of thing when the video-screens don't work. And that was the last impression we had at the Bjork MoMA thing. Waiting in line to go into some dinky makeshift theater to watch a survey of her videos and ka-blam: "Sorry ladies and gentleman, we're experiencing technical difficulties. Check back in a little while."
And there you go.