Ringing in the New Year at MoMA With Christian Marclay’s The Clock

“They said nothing good happens after midnight. I guess I wanted to find out.”

the clock 2Time passes, which is the point of Christian Marclay’s much-talked-about installation The Clock. The work, a 24-hour cinematic loop composed of sequences appropriated from the last century of film, chronicles this passing in real time, as they say. An alarm clock sounds, a movie star eats breakfast; a wristwatch ticks, actors wait for a train. Some reviewers were surprised that watching time pass could be so captivating, although they might not have been if they’d thought back to any old New Year’s Eve, when the world’s citizens fixate on their clocks.

This made MoMA’s kickoff of a series of 24-hour screenings on New Year’s Eve a perfect fit, a civilized alternative to the mobbed masses huddled to the south. The work strikes midnight dramatically with an extended clip from The Stranger, in which Orson Welles dangles from a clock tower, followed by 10 one-second clips by way of a punctuated countdown.

It must have been great for those who made it into the theater. For the 75 or so museumgoers stranded in line, The Clock was a more curious decision: There would be no dropping ball, no Mayor Bloomberg dancing with a surprise celebrity, no drunken shouts heralding the new year.

What could be said for them?

That they were the regular MoMA-going crowd: urbanites and tourists, art lovers and students, one 7-year-old and a smattering of well-heeled society-types who appeared close to midnight and seemed to slip past the line? That they’d chosen to pass the passing of another year passing time in a line to watch a film focused on time’s passage? That they’d forsaken food and drink and good cheer to quarantine themselves from the madness outside? Had they stepped out of time? Had time passed them by?

“They said nothing good happens after midnight,” said Tricia Melloy, in from New Jersey to see The Clock. “I guess I wanted to find out.”

“We wanted to avoid all the New Year’s nonsense,” Justin McKinney told the Transom.Mr. McKinney was in from Montreal with his wife. They’d spent some time watching The Clock earlier in the evening, and after a bite at the MoMA Café, they decided to stick around for the climax.

And so they waited in the museum’s second-floor atrium. They passed time in conversation, or stretched out on divans in the center of the room. They drifted into the contemporary galleries, or popped into the café for a dessert plate or a sip of champagne. One young woman gave the crowd a taste of the spectacle they were missing out on in the streets, pantomiming a strip tease on Philip Worthington’s “Shadow Monsters” installation. Not that anyone really noticed.

Time passed, the line inched forward, and those in it became philosophical.

“Time is arbitrary anyway,” Dan Nation told the Transom. Chinese New Year, he pointed out, is situated, more logically, at the end of winter. “Besides,” he said, “I imagine there are people waiting on line to get into a club somewhere.”

“It’s all very meta,” David Osit admitted, having given up on The Clock to lead two out-of-town friends in search of a bar. “The experience of watching something passing seemed interesting. The experience of waiting on line, not as much.”

Last-ditch strategies were discussed. Rush the door, someone suggested. Tell people the show is canceled. Yell fire. Midnight neared. With 30 seconds to go, an iPad was thrust in the air, live-streaming the end of the year. Everyone shouted out the last 10 seconds.

And then it was over. There were handshakes and hugs and sedate kisses. Everyone looked a little better than they should have in the soft museum light. Ten blocks south, amid the Times Square madness, thousands were dancing in neon, laughing and shouting and who the hell knows.

Time passed. At 12:06, the first lucky patrons began exiting the theater, but we were still waiting. —P.C.

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