The Modern’s Windows Go From Clear to Colorful

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Danny Meyer’s restaurant The Modern, located in the base of the Museum of Modern Art, opened in 2005, and until just recently, its exterior had been conspicuously absent of art. Though its bar room features a photograph by German artist Thomas Demand, and its dining room provides a view of the museum’s sculpture garden, the restaurant’s large, ground-floor windows on 53rd street have been surprisingly blank.

The windows are now making up for lost time. Since June, the 28-foot-long space has been filled with a riotous rainbow of color, courtesy of an installation created by the Brazilian artist collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus and commissioned by MoMA.

“We wanted to do something really loud to attract a lot of attention to the space and to the restaurant,” the curator in MoMA’s Department of Media who spearheaded the project, Jenny Schlenzka, said. Ms. Schlenzka said the museum and the restaurant’s proprietor, Mr. Meyer, had been looking for a way to use the windows since its opening, but had never settled on a project.

Ms. Schlenzka suggested to MoMA’s chief curator of media, Klaus Biesenbach, that the museum commission a piece from Assume Vivid Astro Focus, a collective that ranges between two and 20 artists, and whose signature psychedelic work has been presented at venues including Deitch Projects, Peres Projects, and Art Basel Miami Beach. “Their work is very flashy and loud and fun and inviting.” Ms. Schlenzka said.

The installation, which is called “aimez vous avec ferveur,” is made up of neon tubes arranged in front of a tightly knit wall of braided synthetic hair designed by the Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, who goes by the moniker “Shoplifter.”

“We wanted to propose something that would be quite vibrational, something that would catch passerby’s attentions with a frenetic mix of color, light, and texture,” one of the founders of AVAF, Eli Sudbrack, said in an e-mail message. “We wanted to provide an experience that would be more similar to one of our installations, this overwhelming sensorial experience,” he said. “We were thinking of an exploding background with texture, and immediately thought of Shoplifter.”

Mr. Sudbrack had worked with Ms. Arnardóttir to create an expansive installation at Deitch Projects’s new Long Island City space earlier this summer. The artists had also worked together on a performance project at collector Rosa de la Cruz’s home in Key Biscayne, Fla.

“It was important to the museum that our MoMA project be different from what was being shown at the gallery,” Mr. Sudbrack said. “From the very beginning we knew we wanted to work with neons for this. We had developed a small version of this same neon for a show we had in Athens called ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ and decided to make a new version of it for the MoMA windows, animated and much bigger.”

The artists spent about two weeks working on the windows, with AVAF installing the neon fixtures and Ms. Arnardóttir then creating the backdrop. Ms. Arnardóttir has produced work from hair for numerous gallery shows and for the album covers and videos for pop musician and fellow Icelandic artist Björk. Though Ms. Arnardóttir often uses human hair, she went deliberately low-end for the MoMA project. “I used the cheapest kind of hair, not quite the noblest material. Often I use high-end hair or human hair, and it’s more delicate,” she said. “But this comes in more colors.”

Though the museum has yet to commission future projects for the space, Ms. Schlenzka said it is in discussions to do so. MoMA is also in talks to feature AVAF in one of its PopRally events in early 2009.

The installation will remain on display through the end of 2008.

The New York Sun

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