5:52 pm Jul. 2, 2012
The MoMA opened its doors at 8 p.m. By 9, hundreds were crouched in the museum's large first-floor atrium around three stations: head, body, and legs.
Everyone was drawing, creating bizarre renderings of their assigned body parts. It was an exquisite corpse party, one of MoMA's Poprally events. In this instance the drawings from each station were eventually gathered, jumbled up, scanned, and then projected onto a huge screen. It's a bit different from the game that originally delighted the Surrealist artists in the 1920s and '30s, but the same capacity for invention and surprise inhered.
“[Those] artists wanted to distance or estrange themselves from the work,” a Museum educator told me, “It’s disjointed because the artists saw the mind as a series of anxieties, really. This is their attempt at playing those out.”
The results last night ended up looking similar to “Figure,” in the MoMA's collection, by Andre Breton, Jacques Hérold, Yves Tanguy, and Victor Brauner: a naked backside, sitting on a picnic blanket extends into a four-fingered hand whose oversized thumb props up a swan-like torso and a simple line drawing of a face looking into a hand mirror. (An exhibition of such unfolded bodies and deformed figures, Exquisite Corpses: Drawing and Disfiguration, now showing at MoMA, was the inspiration for this party and was open to guests last night.)
The partygoers last night seemed to embrace the playfulness rather than the anxiety that the game can induce. The setup was simple: three tables with a banner indicating what you should draw, stacks of cards on each, a lot of black markers and several scanning stations. Meanwhile the three members of Brooklyn electro-pop band Au Revoir Simone took turns D.J.ing, and to stay on theme each picked up where the other left off. (Of course, that's what D.J.s always do, but perhaps they kept their ears covered so as to bring a fresh sonic sense to each mini-set.)
As the wacky assemblages started to come up on the large screen, the fruits of everyone's collective labor, it became apparent that "head, body, and legs" had been interpreted as rather loose categories. One body was a circle in which someone had written “Sasha will you marry me?” Perhaps as a reaction, another body-circle bore the message, “Lauren, I want a divorce.” To continue the domestic theme, one pair of legs included an emerging newborn from between them them—a tuxedoed torso and fish head completed the assemblage. If they weren’t drawing, partygoers danced, talked to their friends or proudly displayed their exquisite corpses to anyone who wanted to see.
“Happy Canada day!” someone said to me while holding up a picture of a body with a note about her nation's birthday written inside. “Viva Spain,” another wrote in celebration of Spain’s victory earlier that afternoon in the Euro Cup. Reptilian heads, insectoid legs, a pyramidic torso all made showings.
“I feel so much pressure,” someone at the head station said. Perhaps the anxiety was at work after all
“I know. I’m trying my hardest to be creative,” her friend replied.
“Do you think that they only pick the ones they like,” said another who was drawing a head in the shape of a house, the eyes depicted as windows.
“I think I’m going to submit my Gumby head,” said an archeology student, “I like my Gumby head.”
By 10 p.m., the tables were littered with abandoned or rejected drawings. People sifted through to find potentially aborted treasures.
I tried to think of something witty to draw. "Just draw something!” a middle-aged woman said to me, “You’re supposed to be creative. Don’t pause. Just do what you feel. Whatever pops in your head—draw it! I’ve got six up there already,” she continued gesturing to the big screen. “I’ve shown at MoMA. Six pieces! I’m putting that on my résumé!”
She picked through a bunch of rejects, singled out a "legs," a naked female lower half with the word “Vag” written across her waist. The woman crossed out the word, drew on an arrow, and said “See, now this is perfect” before walking it over to the scanning station.
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