Douglas Gordon at the Armory Is All Flash and No Follow-Through

Douglas Gordon, "tears become…streams become…" at Park Avenue Armory. Photo: James Ewing.
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The idea sounds perfectly Gatsby-esque. Build a massive pool inside the 55,000 square foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory, fill it with 122,000 gallons of water, perch two grand pianos inside its shimmering reflection, lower the lights and have a young concert pianist in a sexy agnès b costume perform classical versions of watery hits — say, Ravel’s “Jeux d’Eaux” or Debussy’s “Sunken Cathedral.”

This Wagnerian wet dream is not a scene from one of Baz Luhrmann’s garish films, but is instead the premise for tears become… streams become…, Douglas Gordon’s latest over-the-top production at the Park Avenue Armory. Technically a collaboration between Gordon, a Scottish multimedia artist, and Hélène Grimaud, a French classical pianist, the installation continues the Armory’s conspicuous tradition of staging logistically ambitious shows that encourage brand-name cultural figures to realize epic projects. For Gordon, the ambition may have been to walk on water.

Gordon and Grimaud’s monumental work echoes previous musically inspired productions by the Turner Prize–winning artist, including K.364, a film installation based on Mozart’s “Sinfonio Concertante” in E flat, K.364. Yet this new work also mimics the scale of another Gordon collaboration:Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. A 2006 documentary film the Scotsman made together with French artist Philippe Parreno using 17 synchronized cameras and loads of state-of-the-art equipment, the film captured one of the world’s top athletes plying his trade for 90 grueling minutes. Its effects are mesmerizing. The same unfortunately can’t be said for tears become. Dramatically wan and conceptually undernourished, Gordon’s light and sound installation sinks beneath the weight of the work’s own grandiosity as well as the Armory’s mammoth hall.

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