Tilda Swinton sleeping in MoMA (All Swinton photos via republicx.tumblr.com)

Tilda Swinton sleeping in MoMA (All Swinton photos via republicx.tumblr.com)

There seems to be a particular penchant among famous actors for taking to performance art (we’re looking at you, James Franco). But actress Tilda Swinton’s ongoing escapade at the Museum of Modern Art, in which she sleeps inside a glass box, is actually a re-performance of an older piece done before Swinton’s recent turn in the spotlight.

“The Maybe” was originally performed at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1995. It was widely covered at the time — a collaboration with the artist Cornelia Parker, “The Maybe” drew comparisons to shows by Damien Hirst and Hans Ulrich Obrist also at the gallery, as well as to Lenin’s tomb and sleeping beauty. At the original installation, Swinton was kept company by vitrines holding other objects — Napoleon’s rosary, Turner’s watercolor set, and Charles Dickens’s last pen, among other artifacts.

Tilda Swinton sleeping at MoMA

Tilda Swinton sleeping at MoMA

“While the material of [Swinton’s] being is apparently tangible, she is less “with us” than the owners of the objects that surround her,” Iain Gale wrote. “What I found interesting was that every time she turned over, everybody moved to the other side of the case. They didn’t want to watch the back of her; they wanted to see her face,” artist A. Pearson recalled of the exhibition. This was before Swinton started appearing in mainstream films in the early 2000s, like 2001’s Vanilla Sky, 2005’s Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and the Coen Brothers’ 2008 Burn After Reading.

Swinton also performed “The Maybe” at the Museo Barracco in Rome before her MoMA appearance, lending her a little more art-world cred in her experiments than, say, James Franco, who was caught watching the actress with musician (and sculptor) Michael Stipe. Twitter responded aptly, wondering if Franco might just be mulling stealing Swinton’s idea.

A Sleeping Beauty finds her "prince" (all images via the artist)

A Sleeping Beauty finds her “prince” (all images via the artist)

Sleeping in a gallery seems to be in the air. At the National Art Museum of Ukraine in 2012, Taras Polataiko staged a remake of Sleeping Beauty in which female performers were kissed by gallery-goers, and had to marry whoever they woke up to. On September 5, the first beauty woke up — to a woman’s kiss, queering the traditional narrative, as Hyperallergic’s Alicia Eler wrote.

Given that Swinton is encased in glass, we’re pretty sure nothing of the sort is going to happen to her. Franco can only wish. But artist Jeanette Hays fills in the blanks for us, with a cartoon rendering of Swinton meeting her own Prince Charming.

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators...

5 replies on “The Perils of Sleeping in an Art Museum”

    1. sorry well known to most in the art community in written in art history books …that I colettetheartist.slept in a glass cabinet with archeological belongings in 91- (rempire gallery nyc in an installation …& other famous sleeping installations .. .. at the moma 77- and the whitney 78- ps1 -76- and sleeping in a big satin box @the clocktower nude was on cover of village voice titled “IS IT ART “?

  1. and Trajal Harrell’s “The Ambien Piece,” 2006, and Sam Taylor-Wood’s “David,” 2004.

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