The Gang’s All Here: Grand Openings at the Museum of Modern Art

A performance art collective takes over

“Art has the reputation of being erratic, abstract, inaccessible and problematic,” Ms. Breitwieser said, adding that, with Grand Openings, she was hoping to present “a very down-to-earth model of an artist in the museum,” apart from much performance art, which has been “so much about excitement and spectacle and entertainment.”

“Sometimes,” Ms. Breitwieser said, smiling, “I miss more thoughtful, more provocative, more critical engagement.” Those characteristics take on surprising forms in today’s art world.

MoMA visitors expecting the shock and drama of Ms. Abramovic’s retrospective are likely to leave disappointed. Rather than sitting in the atrium for weeks like Marina Abramovic, Ms. Breitwieser emphasized, “Grand Openings said, ‘Let’s do it for 13 days.’ It’s a very human scale.” When not staging their periodic events—a schedule is available via MoMA’s website—Grand Openings’ members spend much of their time working in the atrium. “They have an office, some benches and their laptops,” she said. “This is how artists work today.”

Throughout the past week, The Observer watched Grand Openings discuss hallucinogens with curators, work on their laptops and project YouTube videos onto an atrium wall, and heard many visitors asking if this was all, in fact, art. “Maybe that doesn’t matter in the long run,” Ms. Breitwieser said.

A few hours after speaking with Ms. Breitwieser, The Observer participated in Singles Night.
Most of Grand Openings’ events are inspired by MoMA’s history and activities, and this was no exception: “You know MoMA’s education program?” Mr. Arakawa, 33, said. “We made it sexier.”

In the atrium, Mr. Arakawa emceed. Pacing the room wearing a bright-blue T-shirt, shorts, sandals and a headset microphone, he looked like a slightly unhinged motivational speaker.
His audience was a few dozen self-declared singles, including Grand Openings members, all of them sitting on large sheets of paper—divided between Manhattan and Brooklyn residents. Mr. Arakawa asked them to pair off, and pick up long wood planks that Ms. Koether had made. He then instructed the plank-bearing couples to form a circle.

A dance track exploded out of nearby speakers. “Move! Move! Move!” Mr. Arakawa shouted gleefully, waving his hands, and sending the singles running in a circle with their planks. “Single! Single! Single!” He asked us to spin with the planks, put them upside down, and lastly to “Snake!” Applause burst out from around the atrium.

A dance contest with the planks followed, during which The Observer knocked down his partner, Linda Downes, who gracefully recovered, earning cheers from the hundreds in the crowd. Ms. Downes said she’d come to MoMA to see another exhibition and had been cajoled into joining the performance by Mr. Arakawa. “This was more than I bargained for,” she admitted, not sounding disappointed.

When Singles’ Night wound down, The Observer asked Ms. Koether how it felt coming to MoMA every day. “I am ecstatic,” she said, noting that she’s been making daily visits to the painting department. “I’m trying to really inhale it, since this is only for a short moment.”

Only hours earlier, Ms. Breitwieser noted that MoMA has largely been letting Grand Openings record its own performances. “There have been some really nice moments and they’re gone now,” she said. “We don’t have anything.”

arusseth@observer.com