What Do Drunk Party Kids Think of MoMA PS1’s Eco Art?

PS1 draws thousands to its annual “Warm Up” raves (image courtesy Charles Roussel of PS1)

Every summer, PS1’s Warm Up party series brings a couple thousand sweaty bodies into its concrete courtyard — to rub greasily against each other while the world’s foremost underground DJs (some of whom are so old-school and obscure, they amount to unicorn sightings) spin in a booth perched atop the museum’s stairs. The air is always oppressively feverish, and the crowds who come to party — who range from Tumblr tweens to greying hippies — sweat out the MDMA as quickly as they can lick it out of damp plastic baggies.

What interests me most about this raver sauna, however, isn’t really the experimental electronic music or swagged-out fashionistas or boutique food trucks parked out the back. What really excites me are the hordes of party people who wander into the museum under the spell of a heat daze, seeking air conditioning but finding James Turrell along the way. In other words, these club kids, bankers, grandmas and teenagers are confronted with art that many of them would never intentionally seek out.

Meg Webster,
Meg Webster, “Pool” (1998) (all images by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

This unexpected encounter with PS1’s gutsy, avant-garde brand of art by an audience who is ambivalent — or even hostile to — the idea of contemporary art is a rare opportunity to engage in discussions that you’d be hard-pressed to initiate anywhere else. Which is why I sidled up to a few choice party kids lounging next to Meg Webster’s “Pool” — a site-specific installation in the lobby comprised of a PVC pipe throwing up water into a large, man-made pool originally commissioned in 1998 by PS1 founder Alanna Heiss — to pick their brains about this ecologically-engaged exhibition.


Evan, 26, Tech Consultant

Michelle: Hey, how’s it going? Can I ask some you a couple questions about this…
Evan: What I wanted to do is get some water…I’ll be right back. [runs to the water fountain]

M: It’s funny that you were looking at water…. because you wanted water.
E: Yeah, I wanted to dive right in. Where are you from?

M: Uh, I grew up in Singapore, Japan, and New York. Why?
E: Okay, well I grew up in Miami, and this reminds me of the Everglades. But I don’t think it belongs in a museum. I like it though.

M: Why don’t you think it belongs in a museum?
E: Because I was just at the Montreal Biodome, and it was there.

M: But why can’t something that “belongs” in a museum also belong in a biodome?
E: It can. I just don’t really understand why this is here. I’ve been coming to Warm Up for three years now, and last time I was here it was the tree growing out the ground, the cement was all cracked, and in retrospect that struck me in the similar vein. And this is also really cool, now that I think about it. In the middle of the urban jungle, we have a fountain with fish…it’s great.

M: So now that you’ve thought about it, you’re into it a bit more?
E: I mean, isn’t that the point of art?

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Vince, 28, Founder of Nytes Entertainment (refused photo)

M: What do you think of this installation you’re staring at?
Vince: Honestly, here’s the thing…I’m not into modern art. This specific thing is refreshing, but I’ve been coming [to Warm Up] for six years, and I think modern art is bullshit. I’m into classical stuff that requires you to think. With modern art, you can throw toothpicks on a wall, or adjust one thing, and it’s modern art. Art, somewhere, lost its true essence …

M: What do you think is art’s “true essence”?
V: It’s somebody’s like…it’s gonna be like…they feel it…but it’s accepted. It’s weird. They call a lot of things modern art these days. That doesn’t mean it’s true art. That’s the problem. Classical art is true art.

M: But you like this particular piece because it’s refreshing?
V: It’s refreshing, the water is there, and I’m a beach bum. But this is not art. This is something you can see anywhere. This is something anyone could create. I don’t see a true, individual struggle. To me, art is a struggle. There are reasons why they created something and it looks amazing. This is just pouring water, and that’s not art.

M: But could it be something more than just pouring water?
V: I have no idea what it’s supposed to be. To me, it’s a waterfall and that’s it.

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Steven (left), Lisa (middle), Janice (right)

Steven, 27, Lawyer; Lisa, 30, Lawyer; Janice, 26, Finance

M: Hiya, what do you guys think of this installation? 
Steven: It looks like a koi pond, but all I can think about is the PVC pipe.
Lisa: The most interesting piece for me is the sound of the water. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be a visual experience, but I like the experience of the sound of water and the breeze you get from it. Visually, it reminds me of my friend’s grandpa’s backyard. But that’s because he was out of control with koi ponds. Also, the meditative sound is a unique contrast to all the madness going on outside.
Janice: The pipe is so high up. You could’ve extended that pipe further down and made the water less loud.

M: So Lisa, you find the sound of the water meditative, but Janice, you find it abrasive?
J: Yeah, it’s too loud.

M: And Steven, you said all you can think about is the PVC pipe?
S: All I’m thinking about is how it’s constructed. Because down there it’s all tranquil, with a koi pond and little fish. But up here, you’ve got this bright blue garbage pipe.

M: So you like the contrast between the two?
J: Yeah, and how it goes from exposed brick at the top to more natural stone at the bottom…OHHHH now it all makes sense. [laughs]

*   *   *

Elisa (left), Morgan (right)

Elisa, 30, Visual Artist; Morgan, 24, Hair Stylist

M: What does this installation make you think about?
Elisa: It reminds me of the artist who built the pool that you could go under. It was an installation here three or four years ago.

M: Why do they remind you of each other?
E: This is definitely referencing land art, and it’s talking about global warming, sustainable consciousness…it’s just weird to see this landscape in this cube, with all the context of PS1.

M: Why do you think the artist chose to use a PVC pipe?
E: It makes me think about residue from the city. The water doesn’t seem clean. Which might make you think about how these pipes bring water to the sea, and it’s dirty because we’ve been dirty.

M: Morgan, what do you think?
Morgan: I think it’s the future of nature. Everything is going to be landscaped and fake. And that’s what I get from the PVC especially. It looks really artificial.

M: But Elisa, you seem to feel less negatively about the artificiality than Morgan.
E: I feel like the artist is making it this way to create consciousness, to make you think about how these kinds of things are negative to the environment.
Morgan: I just think it’s just something that’s completely manmade — and I really don’t like that idea.

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Bowie (left), Fish (right)

Bowie, 19, Student; Fish, 20, Musician

M: What’s up guys? What do you think of this art installation?
Bowie: The water is so serene and calming. I wish there was more fish.

M: Did you notice that there’s a dead fish in the corner?
B: Ooh! That little one!
F: It could be a pipe or a dead fish [laughs] I like the idea of the stage down there, it looks like you can just walk into the pond.
B: It achieves what it goes for—in this confined space, having some sense of naturalism, but no matter what, it’s artificial, it’s in a building. You’re locked up, but it still has an aura of naturalism. But if this was in my backyard, I’d be really happy.

M: Why would it make you happy?
B: Itd be the perfect place to smoke a blunt. [laughs]
F: Yeah, right here, watching the fish. [laughs]

M: Do you think this is art?
B: Everything is art.
F: Everything is art as long as someone put love and care into it, and planned it, and wanted you to get some kind of aesthetic appeal from it.
B: They could’ve put the pipe in the water, but they wanted your eyes to be drawn to something at eye level.
F: I’m sure she planned to put the plants over here, the rocks over there, and it definitely makes me feel something so that makes it art.
B: Even if I don’t understand what the purpose is, there’s a connection to the piece as a whole. I like it.

Warm Up 2013 takes place on Saturdays, June 29 through September 7 at MoMA PS1 (22-25 Jackson Ave, Long Island City, Queens).

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