A Formal Affair at the Museum of Modern Art

Grand Openings and friends pose for a photo on the fifth floor of MoMA.

Yesterday was “formal dress day” at the Museum of Modern Art, but you wouldn’t have guessed it if you had spent the day wandering the museum.

An open invitation on the museum’s website asked visitors to “come to the MoMA in your most formal and glamorous attire,” a call that was put out by the five-artist collective Grand Openings.  The collective is in the middle of a 13-day residence in MoMA’s Marron Atrium, for which it is programming events and reporting on them in “blog posts” taped to the atrium’s back wall.

An hour after the beginning of the event, The Observer spotted the first person who appeared to be involved. In casual clothes, he typed the blog on a couch in a closed off area of the atrium, and he didn’t want to talk to a reporter (or even tell us his name).  “I don’t really have the authority to speak for the piece,” he said.

At 3:00 p.m., a tall blonde in a black evening gown and sunglasses looked a little bit lonely in the atrium–she was the only one in formal dress, and had been persuaded to attend by a friend who worked at the museum. “I expected more people would be here,” she told The Observer.

A few minutes later, the collective began to rearrange long wooden planks, a central component in many of Grand Openings’ MoMA events, forming a square on the floor of the atrium. Watching this, a man in a tuxedo asked The Observer when the performance was going to start.  (The rearranging was the performance, it turned out.)

A few museum-goers started to watch and then, not knowing what to do, walked into the next gallery. A man mistakenly walked into one of the blocks. He looked around for security guards and was visibly relieved when none scolded him.

The group decided to look at the art around the museum. Posing in intricate shapes on the floor for photographs, they attracted attention. “I think it’s a wedding party,” The Observer overheard one onlooker say to another.

When a security guard began to shoo visitors away from the finished piece, Jutta Koether, a member of the collective, interrupted. “No, no–they can go in. They can touch them, whatever they like,” she explained. “That’s the whole idea. That’s the teaser.”

“We want people to confront this ‘can I or can’t I?’ situation,” Ms. Koether told The Observer. “It’s very awkward, but this is all about making people question their ordinary behavior in a museum, in a way that’s not dogmatic or didactic.”

“The project deals with the museum apparatus as a performance machine. It’s interfacing with a culture of events that have become performance in themselves,” she said. “It’s meta-performance.”

A Formal Affair at the Museum of Modern Art