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Entertainment & Arts

Why the Snapchat exhibition at LACMA looks cool but ultimately rings hollow

Installation view of “The Organ,” 2018, as seen in “Christian Marclay, Sound Stories” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Installation view of “The Organ,” 2018, as seen in “Christian Marclay, Sound Stories” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
(Christian Marclay/Museum Associates/LACMA)

If you’ve never worked for a corporation that commissions expensive advertising campaigns — yet you want to know what that’s like — head over to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for the Christian Marclay exhibition “Sound Stories.” The five video installations by the critically acclaimed artist may make you feel like a CEO choosing the look of an upcoming campaign.

Each of Marclay’s works has the presence of an advertising agency pitch. Like such variations on a theme, each piece seems to be one option in a series of related possibilities. None is fully fleshed out, like a resolved work of art. All feel as if they were designed to please the company that commissioned them.

Made in collaboration with engineers from Snap — and with financial backing from that company — Marclay’s labor-intensive experiments lack the focus, resolution and integrity of works of art. Instead we get unrealized possibility — inchoate notions, fuzzy ideas, vague propositions.

That’s not a tragedy. Artistic failure can be as interesting as artistic success, particularly when it’s aligned with the desire to do something magnificent, something significant, something with the power to blow minds and open eyes. In the past, Marclay has done that. “The Clock” (2010), now part of LACMA’s permanent collection, is a 24-hour video montage that also functions as a clock, measuring time as it invites individuals to consider our relationships to time, space and memory, not to mention movies, television and people.

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“Christian Marclay, Sound Stories” falls short of that. Far less engaging than “The Clock,” the first piece in the exhibition is far better than the four that follow.

The installation “All Together,” 2018, as seen in the exhibition “Christian Marclay, Sound Stories” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The installation “All Together,” 2018, as seen in the exhibition “Christian Marclay, Sound Stories” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
(Christian Marclay/Museum Associates/LACMA)

Presented on a row of 10 phones inset in a concave wall at eye level, “All Together” consists of 400 Snaps that Marclay has arranged in a 4 minute, 30 second loop. The everyday imagery — of anonymous people eating or cooking or walking or driving or exercising or playing with their pets or making music — has a nice rolling rhythm. Its composition and tempo strike just the right balance between intention and accident. Order and chaos dovetail beautifully as everyday life is given its due — and then some.

In the next darkened gallery, “Tinsel Loop” comes off as an academic or technical exercise. On facing screens, each about 5 feet tall, Snaps play with audio components that match the notes of a recording Marclay made in 2005. Considerable work went into the algorithms that find the Snaps whose sounds match his notes, but the time it takes to find them makes for an audio experience that is as frustrating as a slow download.

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The next two installations are interactive. “The Organ” allows visitors to take their turn at a keyboard. Each key causes a column of four Snaps to appear on a screen, their audio components corresponding to the note played. It’s mildly amusing. But its shelf life is short.

“Talk to Me/Sing to Me” is a roomful of phones suspended from the ceiling. When you speak or sing into one, it “talks” back, playing a snippet of video that supposedly mimics your voice. But the gibberish emitted from the phones sounds too much like conversations carried on over weak signals, more frustrating than enlightening.

Installation view of “Sound Tracks,” 2018, part of the exhibition “Christian Marclay, Sound Stories” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Installation view of “Sound Tracks,” 2018, part of the exhibition “Christian Marclay, Sound Stories” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
(Christian Marclay/Museum Associates/LACMA)

The last piece, “Sound Tracks,” has the presence of an afterthought, something tossed off because five variations look better than four. In a dimly lighted gallery, ceiling-mounted tablets play Snaps in “turtle mode,” their normally clear audio transformed into the somber sounds that might accompany a horror movie.

Playing CEO turns out to be not nearly as satisfying as visiting an exhibition of art that works on its own terms — and isn’t burnishing the brand that commissioned it.

'Sound Stories'
Where: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.
When: Through Oct. 14; closed Wednesdays
Admission: $10-$25; 12 and younger free; check website for free hours for L.A. County residents
Info: (323) 857-6000, lacma.org




'Sound Stories'
Where: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.

When: Extended through Nov. 11; closed Wednesdays

Admission: $10-$25; 12 and younger free; check website for free hours for L.A. County residents

Info: (323) 857-6000, lacma.org
Most of LACMA’s permanent collection is gone but the entrance price and parking still cost the same, a sad situation for museum-goers and tourists.
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