There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot more that can be said about Björk’s disastrous solo exhibition at MoMA, so reviled that critics are calling for the heads of chief curator at large Klaus Biesenbach and museum director Glenn D. Lowry. The truth hurts; it’s a head-scratchingly absurd show. I went in determined to see something everyone else missed, trying to find something positive in the four-part presentation, having admired Björk Guðmundsdóttir’s work for many years, from her time leading the Sugarcubes to her award-winning performance in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark to her innovative Biophilia album, app, tour, and concert film. But alas, the simply titled “Björk” exhibition seems to go out of its way to annoy. The MoMA-commissioned ten-minute “Black Lake” music video, for a song from her latest album, Vulnicura, about her breakup with longtime partner Matthew Barney, is fine, a two-screen projection in which she lets loose against Barney, who just last week sued her for custody of their twelve-year-old daughter. “My soul torn apart / My spirit is broken / Into the fabric of all / He is woven,” she sings in a haunting volcanic landscape that features dripping substances evoking Barney’s use of petroleum jelly at the Guggenheim and in Drawing Restraint 9 (in which Björk had a major role) and lava and feces in “River of Fundament.” However, you will have to wait a lot longer than ten minutes to get into the specially designed area in MoMA’s atrium, then wait again after it’s over to enter the theater that shows many of Björk’s cutting-edge videos. Also, several of her unique Biophilia instruments play music in the lobby by the sculpture garden entrance. But it’s the heart of the show that is so disturbing, the time-ticketed “Songlines,” in which an iPod touch guides visitors through eight rooms, a chronological trip through Björk’s eight albums, from 1993’s Debut through January’s Vulnicura. The very small spaces feature handwritten notes and lyrics, costumes, video paraphernalia, and, through headphones, a bizarre fairy-tale-like fictionalized narrative, written by Icelandic poet Sjón and narrated by actress Margret Vilhjalmsdottir, about a young girl (Björk) growing up to become someone. You can’t purchase timed tickets in advance (only same day, onsite), so you might be shut out if you get to MoMA too late in the afternoon. Also, once you start going through “Songlines,” you are not allowed to go back to a previous room; you must proceed forward, and since it’s unlikely you’ll actually need all five minutes for each stop, the audio will often not be in sync with your physical surroundings.
Despite living part-time in New York (and Iceland and London) and having held several concerts in the city on her Vulnicura tour (she had to cancel her April 4 show but will be coheadlining the Governors Ball on Randall’s Island on June 6), Björk has not participated in any events and given only one interview (to Time magazine) in conjunction with the exhibit — although there are mannequins of an ornately designed Björk in “Songlines” — so MoMA is leaving it up to others to put it all in perspective and try to make sense of this utter mess. But they’re not exactly calling in the big guns; instead, on April 10 at 11:30 and April 22 at 1:30, the gallery session “Björk Explained by a Fan” will be led by an unnamed “dedicated fan of the composer, musician, and artist,” moderated by a museum educator. On April 12 and 18 at 11:30, “Sights and Sounds” will delve into how sound can be made visible. On April 17 and 24 at 11:30, “Björk” will examine art in relation to post-technological culture. And on April 26 at 11:30 and April 30 at 1:30, anyone can participate in “Björk: Human Behavior,” an open group discussion about Björk’s exploration of the connections between nature and human behavior; people are encouraged to share “their personal experience of the Björk exhibition,” which could be quite fascinating in and of itself. All talks are first-come, first-served and do not include a visit to the show. I can’t imagine that any of these talks will enhance your personal experience of a show that has been called “abominable,” “an ill-conceived disaster,” “oh so disappointing,” “a waste of time,” “a strangely unambitious hotchpotch,” and, quite simply and right to the point, “bad.”