Hyperallergic rocks it in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, so naturally we felt compelled to review MGMT’s performance at the Guggenheim last night. The band, a staple of any Williamsburg playlist, performed in the rotunda of the museum as part of the 2011 Guggenheim International Gala to celebrate Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s blockbuster exhibition, All. The night was a glossy affair with art world insiders and rich board members and their entourages shmoozing and boozing under Cattelan’s epic sculpture web. As soon as I got to the party I had one question: where are all the hipsters at?
A bit of an outsider myself, I tracked down the people who looked like they didn’t exactly fit in and asked what brought them to the event. Designer Andrea Diodati, dressed from head to toe in one of her designs, got a ticket for free and was excited about the pairing of Cattelan’s work with MGMT. “They both have a similar kinetic energy and youthful rebellion about them,” she said.
Bruce Helander, artist and editor-in-chief of the Art Economist (which he brought a copy of to the party) was not exactly an outsider, but his eccentric outfit of day glow camouflage pants and a day glow orange bowler made him stand out. What did he think of the Cattelan? “Its the most inventive installation in the history of the Guggenheim,” he opined.
Before I gave up hope of spotting any true BK hipsters, I saw flannel out of the corner of my eye and my heart stopped. Next to the gallerinas texting and gossiping, was the lone hipster standing awkwardly in the corner. “What is this thing?” he said, pointing to the Cattelan. “There’s like a horse,” he added.
I jumped in to explain the work. When I asked him what he thought about MGMT playing at the Guggenheim he answered. “I’m sure half these people don’t even know who MGMT are,” he said. He was probably right.
This was also my first time seeing All, and after hearing so many people gush about it, I was pretty damn excited. But the large crowds on the Guggenheim’s winding ramps made it really hard to see the work, which is already placed at a good distance from the viewer. Surrounded by models and other fashonistas teetering down the ramps in their nine-inch pumps, I wasn’t sure if this was the best way to experience All. Then MGMT started and everything changed.
As the band took to the stage, neon beams appeared all along the outer walls of the ramps, turning the cavernous heart of the Guggenheim into a fantastic light show. The Cattelan suddenly looked like a scene from a bad acid trip (or maybe an awesome one). Standing right beneath Cattelan’s Picasso sculpture with its creepy engorged head, I was completely transfixed by the flashing blue, green and pink lights ricocheting off the work. The light show was a perfect match for Cattelan’s bad boy installation that turns the pristine Guggenheim into something carnivalesque.
MGMT’s trippy electronica beats also fit right into the equation, although a lot of the crowd wasn’t feeling it. I overheard one (probably Manhattanite) guy complain, “Give me something with a melody, play songs!”
The set was MGMT’s debut of totally new tracks that they created specifically for the event and were inspired by the Cattelan installation. While at times the songs were a bit too obvious (one piece with electronic organ sounds was clearly meant for Cattelan’s infamous sculpture of John Paul II killed by a meteorite), other tracks had catchy beats and little to no vocals so that one song smoothly blended into the next.
The light show was what really made the performance. Yet it seemed as I looked around and saw people talking amongst themselves and standing still during the show, that this just wasn’t the right crowd to really get into it. The event was missing some key elements: dancing, maybe some drugs and actually more hipsters. Taken out of the stiff setting of a gala, MGMT’s unique collaboration with Cattelan would have reached a whole other level.
Maurizio Cattelan’s All at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1071 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) continues until January 22, 2012.
MGMT’s second Guggenheim concert will take place tonight at the famed Fifth Avenue building.
* * *
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.