Last week, Kraftwerk-loving New Yorkers were in tears as tickets to the German electronic group’s upcoming retrospective at MoMA sold out at lightning speed. One friend told me she was poised with multiple browsers when tickets went on sale, but she was still out of luck, as they disappeared in the blink of an eye. Despite the fact that MoMA welcomes over three million visitors a year, the institution’s outsourced ticket vendor appeared to be caught by surprise, and thousands of fans were left disappointed in the wake of Kraftwerk-gate — OK, not exactly a controversy, but everyone was peeved by the whole process.
By the end of the day, Craigslist and other online sales hubs were awash with promises and pleas for tickets. One lucky ticket holder offered to sell his but mentioned that you’d probably have to legally change your name to use it; it was gone a few hours later but no word if it was sold, retracted or just a joke.
I spoke with Klaus Biesenbach, the mastermind behind the unorthodox MoMA retrospective, about Kraftwerk and why they were being featured at the institution. The Chief Curator at Large at MoMA and Director of MoMA PS1, Biesenbach grew up 25 miles from Düsseldorf, which is the homebase of Kraftwerk. He’s well acquainted with their music and influence and argues that their impact is beyond the limits of music.
“The idea for the MoMA performance is to imagine you were in their Kling Klang studio in Düsseldorf, which allowed roughly 450 people,” he says. The number may sound small for a New York City concert, but nine years ago, according to Biesenbach, the group performed at a venue in New York smaller than MoMA, and, he adds, the upcoming shows will be the most durational concert the group has performed.
This isn’t the first foray for Biesenbach into the realm of duration projects. His Marina Abramović retrospective in 2010 had as its central feature the artist’s 736 hr 30 min performance, “The Artist Is Present.” “When I did this with Marina, we thought the chair would be mostly empty, since who would sit there all the time?” he says. That, of course, changed, and the staring contest the artist had with visitors become the stuff of art-world legend.
While Kraftwerk fans may be disappointed that they couldn’t snag a seat for the retrospective on 53rd Street, Biesenbach says they are exploring ways to make the whole thing more accessible to the public, including setting up another experiential version of the exhibition at PS1 that would use eight projects in a dome.
The curator is passionate about the influential German group’s impact on contemporary culture. “Normally there is a musician who asked a set designer to do the sets, programmers create robots, then the stage … but they do everything,” he says.
The impact of Kraftwerk is also about more than just pop culture and music, according to Biesenbach. “Their work is about mobility and how our lives have been changed through technology,” he says. Tracks like “Trans Europe Express” reflect the minimalism and experimentation of the era, and their work is also a crucial part of the larger picture of the Düsseldorf cultural sphere, which Biesenbach calls a small city that had a world-class art scene.
Kraftwerk fit perfectly into Düsseldorf’s art scene, which embraced social responsibility, as a result of the influence of Joseph Beuys, and technology, as seen in the work of other artists from the area, like Andreas Gursky. “They are incredibly influential, in that they have made a huge contribution to contemporary culture,” he says.
Kraftwerk – Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 will take place April 10–17 at MoMA’s Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium (11 West 53rd Street, Midtown, Manhattan).
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