Tino Sehgal at Stedelijk Museum 4/12

Last year Tino Sehgal presented his ‘constructed situations’ in Amsterdam. Now Palais de Tokyo has given him carte blanche to present his work in Paris.

Some kisses in popular culture linger in our minds. In movies, we remember the upside down kiss in ‘Spider-man’, the-ghostly-kiss in ‘Ghost’, the cowboy kiss in ‘Brokeback Mountain’, the front of the boat deck kiss in ‘Titanic’, and the iconic kiss in ‘Gone with the Wind’.

SMPrinceIn pop music there are many songs that feature the word kiss in the title. This includes the arousing song ‘Kiss’ by Prince, ‘Kiss Me Quick’ by Elvis Presley and ‘Til I Kissed You’ by The Everly Brothers. There is even an American band that calls themselves Kiss.

JeffKoonsThe kiss also features in works of art most notably Gustav Klimt’s famous painting ‘The Kiss’, Rodin’s marble sculpture ‘The Kiss’, Jeff Koon’s infamous pornographic images with La Cicciolina, such as ‘Kiss with Diamonds’ and ‘Bourgeois Bust’ which are from the ‘Made in Heaven’ series.

Sehgal presents the ‘live kiss’ inspired by all of the artistic kisses mentioned above. Two regular performers of Sehgal, a man and a woman wearing clothes, are entangled in an embrace, lying on the ground caressing each other affectionately. The sequence is carefully choreographed in a loop of two repetitive cycles. There is the art of seduction which comprises foreplay before the couple kiss each other. They exchange two tender kisses on the mouth: one kiss lying on the ground and one kiss standing up.

GustavKlimtTheKissElements of Klimt and Koons can be detected in Sehgal’s kiss. Klimt’s painting is considered by viewers as the epitome of the way one would like to be kissed; full of longing, desire and passion. However, in Klimt’s painting, the couple doesn’t kiss each other; the man kisses the woman on the cheek, as the woman has turned her head slightly away. This could be interpreted as a wave of passion having surged over her, as rejection or as playing hard to get. This is also enacted in Sehgal’s version. At a certain moment the man wants to kiss the woman and she turns her head slowly away. When the sequence is repeated, the man slowly turns his head away. Koons’s more erotically charged depiction of the kiss is present in how the couple take on suggestive positions and gently place their hands near each other’s erogenous zones.

The couple seems to be completely immersed, oblivious to the outside world, until they mention the title of the artwork alternately: woman: “Tino Sehgal”, man: “Kiss”, woman “2002”, man: “MoMA, New York”.

Viewers gather around the couple and observe this ‘living sculpture’ for a period of time, not feeling at all voyeuristic. They might be carried away and start to fantasize how they want to be kissed. They could also feel emboldened by the couple and want to kiss their own partner immediately.

TinoSehgalContemporary_200percentmagMost of Sehgal’s work is presented in vacant museum rooms. As I entered one of these unoccupied rooms of the Stedelijk, I was prepared to witness or be a participant in another ‘live-encounter’. Suddenly, I hear someone yelling behind me “Ohhhh, this is so contemporary”. Three exuberant museum guards enter the room doing a daft disco dance around me whilst repeatedly singing the same line like a chorus. They encircle me so I have to sit through the entire performance. They end their dance, return to the three doorways of the room and announce the title of the work: ‘This is so contemporary, Tino Sehgal, 2004, MMK Frankfurt’. It’s amusing to watch them dance with energy, joy and fervour. Not every visitor, though, can appreciate the manner in which they are welcomed into the room which could lead to great hilarity. One of the visitors looked for an exit, not unlike a fire exit, however, one of the guards started to dance in the doorway so he couldn’t escape.

‘This is so contemporary’ could be one of the lines of Andrea Fraser’s satirical performance of ‘May I Help You’, which I once witnessed at the Ludwig Museum. Fraser plays a gallery staff member and speaks to visitors at a show of Allan McCollum’s ‘Plaster Surrogates’. The objects displayed on the wall are in fact identical black surfaces. Fraser’s speech is totally over the top American. She mocks the sales talk used by gallery staff, littered with meaningless adjectives and she ridicules the jargon of the art world. Artists like Fraser and Sehgal demonstrate that live art can be sheer fun, entertaining and lingering.

Written by Thierry Somers
Spider-man, 2002, Columbia Pictures
Kiss, Prince, 1986
Jeff Koons, Bourgeois Bust, 113 x 71.1 x 53.4 cm, 1991
Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 180 x 180 cm, 1907-08