Bjork Retrospective at MOMA!

Fans on Queue for Songlines
Fans Queue Up for the Black Lake Video Screening at the Bjork Retrospective at MOMA (All Photos By Gail)

I’ve been aware of the Icelandic singer/performer Bjork since the first album by her band Sugarcubes was released in 1986, but aside from what a person who pays somewhat close attention to modern music can’t help but absorb through the pop culture ether, I didn’t know / care much about her / her music before making the trip to the Museum of Modern Art at an earlier-than-usual hour on March 8th for the opening day of its much-hyped Bjork Retrospective.

Singles Covers
Assorted Artwork from Bjork’s Singles’ Sleeves

It wasn’t necessarily important to me to wake up at 6 AM on the first day of DTS (groan) in order to be among the first in the door of MOMA to see an exhibit that had already garnered puzzlingly negative reviews based on a press preview that I was somehow not invited to. But Geoffrey is a diehard fan, and, as such, he insisted we simply must go on that Sunday. Based on the few photos I’d already seen, it definitely looked like there would be lots of cool costumes and props, so how could we possibly not have fun, right? Plus, we always get in for free. Win win!

Singles Covers
More Singles Cover Artwork

Here’s what we saw when we got inside:

The Bjork exhibit has three parts. First, there is a cinema where you can watch a retrospective of all of Bjork’s videos, from Debut (1993) through Biophilia (2011). I will go back another time before the exhibit closes to check these out.

There is also a screening of a ten minute video for the song “Black Lake” that Bjork made especially for this exhibit. “Black Lake” is from her latest album, Vulnicura, which Geoffrey informs me is all about her breakup with long-time partner, Avant-garde artist Matthew Barney, who, bluntly put, is a bit of a weirdo.

“Black Lake” is like a very dramatic mini opera, and the video shows extended shots of Bjork kneeling on the painful-looking rock floor of a cave, plus some other stuff. All I could think of was that I bet her knees hurt. You can tell that Bjork is a good actress and I enjoyed the video, although the song is a pretty big downer.

Singles Covers
Yet More Singles Cover Artwork

The main part of the exhibit is what everyone is calling “Bjork The Ride,” but which is really called Songlines. To get into Songlines, you need a separate, timed entry ticket that you will need to pick up at the front desk of the museum as soon as you get in. When we went, we had to wait in a line that was only about half a block down the 54th Street side of the museum, but I am thinking we were lucky that it was not much longer. We got our timed tickets at 11 AM and they were for the 12:45 PM entrance to Songlines. So we had one hour and 45 minutes to get “Black Lake” out of the way (total waiting and viewing time: 20 minutes) and then fart around in the museum for another hour and change.

Bjork Songlines Exit
Bjork Songlines Exhibit Exit

Finally it was our time to experience Songlines, and we were so excited we could barely live! You first enter through a darkened hallway where you can stand around and watch rows of monitors showing clips of performances from Bjork’s various tours, but who wants to do that? We wanted to get to the ride, man!

Before you enter the labyrinth that is the Songlines exhibit, an attendant will equip you with an iPod thingy that hangs around your neck and plays Bjork’s period-appropriate music as well as a narrative / story about a magical princess, or something, as you walk through the various rooms. They will tell you that it takes about 40 minutes to walk the entire exhibit, and…you’re off on your Bjork Adventure!

Model For Debut Album Cover
3-D Model for Debut Cover

Each section is dedicated to one of Bjork’s albums. You will see costumes, props and personal items and you can take as much time as you want looking at everything. I enjoyed the princess story but it was a little disorienting to me with her music also playing over it. It reminded me of being on acid, to be honest.

Airmail Jacket by Hussein Chalayan
Airmail Jacket by Hussein Chalayan

All is Full of Love Robots
All is Full of Love Robots

I am not going to be able to add much information here, because I don’t even own one of her albums, and I honestly only know three or four Bjork songs, one being “Army of Me,” which is a work of genius.

Baby Bjork

Look! It’s baby Bjork! How cute is she? So Cute.

Pagan Poetry Dress and Vespertine Music Box
Pagan Poetry Dress and Vespertine Music Box

This display reminded me of the Alexander McQueen exhibit at The Met that happened a few years ago, which was just insane. It is probably no accident that McQueen designed a lot of Bjork’s dresses.

Swan Dress By Marjan Pejoski
Swan Dress By Marjan Pejoski

Remember this dress that Bjork wore to the Academy Awards a few years ago? Of course you do.

Bell Dress by Alexander McQueen
Bell Dress by Alexander McQueen; Medulla Hairpiece by Shoplifter

This dress is just unbelievably gorgeous.

Crystal Mask by Val Garland
Crystal Mask by Val Garland

Body Sculpture By Bernhard Wilhelm
Body Sculpture By Bernhard Wilhelm, Volta Era

This is my favorite thing in the entire exhibit.

Feather Ear Pieces By Shaun Leane
Feather Ear Pieces By Shaun Leane

Bjork Biophilia Dress
Biophilia Dress

Biophilia Dress Close up
Biophilia Dress (Detail)

I really thought that Songlines was just excellent, and I would recommend it to anyone, but Geoffrey offered his take on why a lot of Bjork fans don’t dig it. For him, when you consider that Bjork’s career has spanned thirty years (pre-dating her work with Sugarcubes), there was just so much left out that it couldn’t avoid being let down, and I admit that I see his point. So, I guess therein lays the rub. You’ll have to judge for yourself, but you should definitely go and check it out!

Bjork Retrospective will be on Exhibit through June 7th, 2015 at the Museum of Modern Art, Located at 11 West 53rd Street, Between 5th and 6th Avenues, in NYC.

Read Geoffrey’s review, which is much more detailed from the perspective of an obsessed, Bjork-completist fan, at This Link!

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