Want great art? Keep dreaming!
By ANDREA PEYSER
Have we devolved into a nation of cultured sheep?
A piece of fine art on display at the highfalutin Museum of Modern Art contains no Holy Virgin caked in elephant dung. No crucifix was submerged in the artist’s blood and urine. That would make too much sense.
Instead, people line up at MoMA daily, like lambs to the slaughter, not to be shocked or enlightened. They come to gawk at a decidedly B-list star encased in a glass box — sleeping.
“I hoped she’d be here!” enthused Beverly, who waited from early morning Friday to get inside MoMA.
She left, dejected, and $25 poorer, proving P.T. Barnum was right — there’s a sucker born every minute.
The “she” she came to see is the Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner and nouveau-art object, Tilda Swinton.
Swinton, perhaps the least-known Academy Award winner this side of her home in Scotland (she won for 2007’s “Michael Clayton”), is vying for the kind of fame whoredom one usually cannot buy while keeping her clothes on. She’s Lindsay Lohan, minus the shoplifting. Kim Kardashian, minus the pregnancy, greed and major booty.
Pale and severely androgynous, the 52-year-old actress, nee Katherine Mathilda Swinton, arrives at the museum unannounced, whenever she feels like it, and waltzes off some seven hours later.
But Tilda doesn’t do art as we know it. Chris Ofili cynically flung dung in his 1996 “The Holy Virgin Mary,” a collage that infuriated patrons of the publicly funded Brooklyn Museum. In the ’90s, former hooker Annie Sprinkle invited audiences to peek at her cervix, and called it performance art. Andres Serrano stuck a plastic cross inside a glass of his bodily fluids for the 1987 photograph “Piss Christ,” a piece of dung shown in New York just last year. It still has the National Endowment for the Arts, which paid part of a $15,000 grant with your tax money, ducking for cover.
The art world has only dumbed down since then.
Tilda, the 5-foot-11, ultrathin, middle-aged performer, whose celebrity doppelganger is David Bowie, plops, for no pay, atop a mattress inside a glass box, dressed in sneakers, slacks and a button-down shirt — tossing, turning and feigning sleep. She drinks water, but never uses the bathroom.
People who wouldn’t buy a ticket to one of her movies now line up for a chance to experience a lady performing publicly an intimate function normally reserved for the privacy of one’s bedroom.
Those who happened upon Tilda when she materialized, without warning, March 23 and 26 jockeyed giddily for a glimpse, like fans at a One Direction concert. She plans to show up, like a phantom, on another half-dozen unannounced dates this year.
Culture vultures better line up now.
Tilda performed her nap — called “The Maybe” — in 1995 at London’s Serpentine Gallery, and reprised it the next year at Rome’s Museo Barracco. In 2006, a MoMA spokeswoman told me, she talked to curator Klaus Biesenbach about bringing her tired act to America, a country whose citizens traditionally feel intellectually inferior to our betters abroad.
I am embarrassed.
MoMA, “the great monument to high modernism, has finally achieved a great parody of itself by subjecting the unwary spectator to this preposterous spectacle,” said a brave critic, The New Criterion magazine editor and publisher Roger Kimball.
“Here we have Tilda Swinton, who has the patina of celebrity, sleeping in public. Here, you and your date have plunked down $50 to watch a fated celebrity — asleep!
“H.L. Mencken said, ‘No one went broke underestimating the stupidity of the American public.’ ”
We’ve become a nation of insecure lemmings, desperate to be liked by Euro-slobs. Is this some snarky commentary on our voyeuristic celebrity worship? Or are we too exhausted to care?
Whatever the lofty purpose, Tilda Swinton has become the symbol of our age — an exhibitionistic, intellectually needy fame-seeker.
Don’t encourage her.
Use your $25 museum admission fee to take a friend to a (non-Tilda) movie. Give it to a talented starving artist.
Or stay home — and snooze. It’s more exciting.