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Entertainment & Arts

Why is this man suspended midair at MOCA? And how?

“In Just a Blink of an Eye” by Xu Zhen
Xu Zhen’s “In Just a Blink of an Eye” (2014) during “14 Rooms” presented in Basel by Fondation Beyeler, Art Basel, Theater Basel in 2014. MOCA has acquired the performance piece.
(Courtesy of the artist and Fondation Beyeler; photo by Mark Niedermann.)

Baggy-clothed breakdancers will be suspended in midair — frozen as if sculpture — inside the Museum of Contemporary Art starting this week.

Who are these performers, hovering above the ground, as if defying gravity?

They are part of a performance piece, “In Just a Blink of an Eye,” by Xu Zhen, a Shanghai-based conceptual artist who creates paintings and installations as well as video and performance art. MOCA recently announced that it had acquired “In Just a Blink of an Eye” for its permanent collection.

One of the people in the work, arms outstretched and body erect, appears to be falling forward, halfway to the floor, as if he’s going to belly-flop into a swimming pool. Another, with wrists limp and knees slightly bent, falls backward, suspended just a few feet from the ground.

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Museum visitors will be able to walk around them. Snap a selfie, even. Just don’t ask MOCA how the poses are achieved. The museum won’t reveal the artist’s trickery.

“In Just a Blink of an Eye” is about states of limbo. It jarringly forces viewers to question the laws of physics. It’s also about the human form and materiality of the body, and it’s something of a meditation on stillness and the fluidity of time. Among other things.

MOCA has only one other performance piece in its permanent collection, “Temperament and the Wolf” (2014/19), by Puerto Rico-based artist duo Allora & Calzadilla. Earlier this year, at the museum’s annual benefit, staffers and board trustees participated in a restaging of the piece. They formed a double receiving line and welcomed guests into the museum’s Geffen Contemporary satellite in Little Tokyo, clasping hands vigorously and making eerily direct eye contact. “Welcome,” “Hello, welcome,” they muttered, deadpan, in their dark suits and flowing gowns.

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The new performance acquisition will debut Saturday and will run on Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 1. MOCA’s director of education and senior curator of programs, Amanda Hunt, said in a statement that the work was “an example of our new dedication to collecting performance art.”

“In Just a Blink of an Eye” reflects MOCA Director Klaus Biesenbach’s vision for the museum. When he worked at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Biesenbach co-founded, with Director Glenn Lowry, what would become the Department of Media and Performance Art. Together with Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, he’s presented the Xu Zhen piece multiple times internationally. It was part of a series of group exhibitions of “living sculpture” that began as “11 Rooms” in 2011 and grew to “15 Rooms” in 2015.

The L.A. staging will be its West Coast debut; it’s the first time all four poses represented in the piece will be shown together simultaneously.

If you’re a fan of this sort of performance art, take note: “There will be more to come,” Hunt said, as MOCA beefs up its collection.

On view
'In Just the Blink of an Eye'
Where: Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., L.A.
When: Saturday-Sept. 1; closed Tuesdays
Admission: $8-$15
Info: (213) 626-6222, www.moca.org


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