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First Look: Inside Björk's MoMA Retrospective

Preview the massive Björk exhibition opening at the Museum of Modern Art on March 8, 2015.

by Emerson Rosenthal
03 March 2015, 9:30pm

Björk, the mid-career retrospective that opens on March 8, fills the Museum of Modern Art with over 20 years of the iconic artist's work. From Songlines, its narrative multimedia tour through her seven studio albums, to Black Lake, the immersive installation that puts viewers inside a custom-made sonic environment, Björk’s music and art come center stage at the show, treating her fans and art lovers alike to an experience of growth, death, and rebirth. 

Bjork. Still from “Black Lake,” commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and directed by Andrew Thomas Huang, 2015. Courtesy of Wellhart and One Little 

"This is an exhibition about music," Chief Curator at Large at MoMA and Director of MoMA PS1 Klaus Biesenbach tells The Creators Project. "I got to know Björk pretty early on in 2000, and I think what curators do when they meet a great artist, because they're curators, is say 'Oh, we should do an exhibition together.'" 12 years later, following the Biophilia tour, Biesenbach was finally able to convince her.

The show comprises three floors at MoMA: instruments, including a gameleste, pipe organ, gravity harp, and Tesla coil custom-made for Biophilia ring out in the lobby during different times of day. In the Marron Atrium on the second floor, a cinema room screens Björk’s music videos made by the likes of Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, and others. In a separate room lined with 8,000 custom foam pyramids designed by architects The Living, the ten-minute Black Lake film directed by Andrew Thomas Huang plays on loop. The third and final floor features Songlines, a location-based sonic journey through Björk's music, visuals, and collaborations, including the robots Chris Cunningham designed for the "All is Full of Love" music video, the 2001 Swan Dress by Marjan Pejowski, and 2013's Biophilia Dress by Iris van Herpen, all guided by a poetic, fictional biographical narrative written by the Icelandic writer Sjón.

(L) Iris Van Herpen, Biophilia Dress, 2011. (R) Marjan Pejoski, Swan Dress, 2001

"On Monday, Björk and I were laughing about it because I made such a funny metaphor," says Biesenbach. "I said, 'Oh, we have the playful instruments specially for the children downstairs, Black Lake is like a pulsating heart, because it is like a cave, and it's red, and the movie theater is for the eyes, and Songlines is for the ears. So we made a body, basically."

That thing that comes to completion at the show is as multivalent as the performer, and every bit as fleeting and intangible as her music. Developed over the course of her separation from longtime boyfriend and collaborator Matthew Barney, a painful upheaval the artist expresses in 2015's Vulnicura, the show is a celebration of collaboration, singular creativity, and the power of music itself. Perhaps it is her former lover, her own suffering, or her former self that she sheds like the shattered shell she speaks of in the lyrics to "Black Lake." Whatever it is that finds its fullness in Björk, it does so with the grace and gusto that spans her entire career. Like new rock formed by the magma that flows out in Black Lake's cave, what's next for the artist, as it's always been with Björk, will be triumphant, organic, and new. At the press conference, Biesenbach even announced that Björk had already completed new work that is slated to be unveiled as early as March 16. 

(L) Matthew Barney, Vespertine Music Box, 2001. 
(R) Alexander McQueen, Bell Dress, 2004 and Val Garland, Crystal Mask, 2003/2015.

Encyclopedia Pictura, Isaiah Saxon and Sean Hellfritsch, "Wanderlust" costume and Yak, 2007

"I think she's a huge innovator," concludes Biesenbach. "She is an inventor in a nearly science-like way. She is a creator, like an artist, innovating new forms, always with a very meaningful content, so I think she's one of these artists that actually create the image and the sound and the atmosphere of the world we are going to be in. It's very interesting: in 2012, I said 'Imagine your retrospective of where you will have arrived in 2015.' So this is a retrospective of the future."

Björk at MoMA opens to the public on March 8, 2015. Click here for more information. 

Related:

MoMA Releases Trailer for Björk's 'Black Lake'

A Guide To Björk's Custom Biophilia Instruments

[Video] Hy-Fi: The Living's Local, Sustainable, 10,000 Brick Mushroom Tower At MoMA PS1

Andrew Huang: One-Man Special Effects Wizardry

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bjork
MoMa
Black Lake
museum of modern art
exhibition coverage
bjork retrospective
songlines