Endurance art—also known as durational performance—is so well-worn a part of the contemporary artistic vocabulary that, without sufficiently compelling a conceit, it can easily come across as passé and uninteresting. Originally conceived by Chris Burden with his 1971 “Five Day Locker Piece,” in which he was confined for said length of time inside of one, dancers and performance artists have been re-treading this ground now for decades. Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson has staked it out as a central concern in his work, the latest of which is up for viewing now at the Art Institute of Chicago. Simultaneously timely and outdated, at first glance this performance-artifact-cum-video-installation tracks as having all the emotional depth of a Gucci ad. And, to be sure, not much is at risk here, the virtuosity of those Dapper Dan bandmembers in all-black-and-white collars notwithstanding, with their allusions to the wretched psychological pain of romantic disappointment, assembled onstage amidst billows of smoke writhing up through the footlights.
Fawned over by Roberta Smith in The New York Times as a “wonderful thing,” “A Lot of Sorrow” is the title of a three-and-one-half minute breakup ballad by Brooklyn-based band The National, filmed by Kjartansson and in which he appears frequently, filming and passing drinks.
Originally performed in May 2013 at MoMA PS1’s VW Dome, the band live-performs their short ode to the bittersweetness of experience for an often surprisingly savory total of six hours. Many of the assembled crowd in the video are fresh-faced Millennials, whose socializing din rises and falls against the music, and which contrasts the dark, black cube of the Art Institute’s gallery—sans actual party atmosphere—as tourists flit in and out at ten and fifteen-minute intervals. I gave it two hours, and no one stayed longer than twenty minutes during my entire viewing, since there really isn’t much reason to.
What I found most redeeming about the experience was how listening to the song on repeat here came to have a connection with the experience of looking over time—exposing how sustained sensory experiences can crumble into a singular ebullience. I left wishing the form had better followed the content. (Michael Workman)
At the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan, Gallery 186, (312)443-3600. Through October 16, Monday-Sunday, 10:30am-5pm. For more information visit artic.edu/