exhibit // philippe parreno at the armory

The last time I went to the Park Avenue Armory was to see Ann Hamilton's unforgettable 'the event of a thread', an installation piece where viewers were invited to enjoy giant swings that hung from the building's ceiling. So when my mom sent an email telling us we should go to the Armory's newest exhibit, Philippe Parreno's 'H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS', I made sure to clear my calendar for that night.

Entrance into the space is $15, which is rather steep, if you want my opinion (which you most likely do, since you're reading this blog). And for the first few minutes we spend inside 'H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS', I was seriously beginning to think all those critics who gave the exhibit such high praise must have been either bribed or high (or both?).

That was before I let myself get completely immersed in the experience Parreno's installation creates. First, we view June 8, 1968 (2009), a video of a train retracing the train journey of Robert Kennedy's body from New York to D.C. after his assassination. After a musical interlude, the screen turns on again, this time to play Marilyn (2012). This second short film, we I later learns concerns Marilyn Monroe's last days at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, touches me in the way it manages to make me feel an absence of human presence. For, despite the slightly robotic female voice describing the hotel room interiors, the film is devoid of human warmth and feeling. Even the closeup shots of a fountain pen scratching away in beautiful cursive do not even allow a glimpse at a human hand. (I won't spoil the end of the film, but I'll just say my foreshadowing is rather on par).

The film ends and we are (implicitly) invited to walk around the immense warehouse-like hall of the Armory, so as to get a closer look at a musician-less piano playing itself. I also enjoy the slightly creepy 'lamp show', in which different light fixtures turn on and off in accordance to the music being played, as if they were musical instruments themselves.

What is about to happen is both the most uncomfortable and unforgettable piece of the exhibit. We are sitting on a bench when a girl with very long, straight black hair approaches us. I think she's lost, but quickly realizes she's part of the exhibit. She begins to recite a monologue, telling us her story. We learn the child is the anime character Ann Lee, which Parreno purchased from a Japanese agency and decided to have interact with viewers of his exhibit. For a little girl of ten years at most, she's an incredibly talented and professional actress. At certain points in her performance, she asks us deep, difficult questions about creativity and adulthood, which make us very uncomfortable. Especially when she looks us straight in the eye and repeats the question. And sighs at our lack of response. In its formidable ability to blur art and reality, work and viewer, actor and audience, Ann Lee (2011), troubles us all.

The last video we watch is InvisibleBoy (2010), a cute little film about a young boy in Chinatown who sees cartoon monsters around his family's tight apartment.

So although 'H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS' did not capture us immediately, by the time we got out we were completely sold. I don't know what Parreno did to us, but it was oddly powerful. Kudos, sir.

For dinner, we head over to EJ's Luncheonette, a diner we use to go to quite often when we lived on 73rd between 2nd and 3rd. We notice they've done some redecorating, which I feel makes the place lose some of its authenticity. The menu, too, has gotten a little smaller, but that makes it easier for us to decide. Dad and I get veggie burgers, Olympe gets some monstrous brunch burger (she swears it should have given her a heart attack) and mom orders a cobb salad, her second favorite diner dish after the tuna melt. Everything is great, as usual, and we have a nice family meal.


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