Björk at MoMA
Is it Art or is it Music? Björk Retrospective Put’s the Musical Artist’s Career in New Perspective
London's Victoria and Albert Museum may have set a new precedent when they compiled a retrospective of rock star David Bowie’s creative career. That show has generated a life of its own as it continues traveling across the globe. Perhaps partly inspired by that success, New York’s Museum of Modern Art has launched a retrospective of the multifaceted singer-composer and musical innovator Björk. In case you’ve only recently been returned from an alien abduction and aren’t familiar with Björk, this is a perfect opportunity to catch up on one of the most influential alt-pop musical voices on earth these last two decades. For the rest of us, the MoMA show is an ideal revisit to a prolific and colorfully quirky career.
Having recorded her first solo album in her native Iceland at age 12, Björk went on to become singer of various bands, most notably The Sugar Cubes, before releasing a more mature debut album in 1993, which included the single that reverberated through the alternative music world: “Human Behaviour.” The song’s sound, arrangement, and especially Björk’s voice weren’t quite like anything music listeners had heard before. The rest is music history, and The MoMa has done an impressive job of recreating and contextualizing that history into a total sensory experience itself unlike any show the Museum has previously mounted. Instruments, costumes, theatrics, video, photography, new media, and of course sound are all incorporated, taking the visitor through a kind of alien abduction all its own – with Björk the adorable alien who takes you by the hand. Her eight full-length albums, together with her multiple collaborations with directors, photographers, designers and artists, are all combined into an immersive experience that Bowie would surely be delighted to have helped inspired.
Three years in the making, and spanning several galleries and three floors, the exhibit proceeds chronologically through Björk’s career up to her newest music-video Black Lake. Commissioned especially for MoMA, the video is shown in a fittingly black viewing space on two major wide screens facing opposite each other and enclosing the audience. The floor of the viewing space had to be specially redesigned to withstand bass vibrations that might otherwise disturb the masterpieces in the other galleries. Still, this shouldn’t keep your own socks from being knocked off. In fact, the opening included 3D sound installation – definitely a cut above the usual audio guide. The Björk retrospective runs through June 7. (And yes, the now legendary swan dress she wore to the Academy Awards in 2001 is on display.) A preview of the new video follows.