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Come Sit! A lot of Rirkrit Tiravanjia

Remarkably underwhelming, a room of just four metal folding chairs, a thrifty swan pot filled with the most plastic of red roses, and cardboard boxes lined with art catalogs is undeniably grasping at the aesthetics of a “caution: hot” café without directly building one. As with a lot of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s work in this expansive exhibition presented at MoMa PS1, A LOT OF PEOPLE gets at the delicate relationship between object and viewer to interrogate the extent to what we consider art and from whom we accept it.




Rirkrit Tiravanija. untitled 1993 (café deutschland) (detail). Four chairs, one table, metal shelves, stacked books, mixed media, Turkish coffee, and a lot of people. Installation view, Rirkrit Tiravanija: A LOT OF PEOPLE, on view at MoMA PS1 from October 12, 2023 through March 4, 2024. Image courtesy MoMA PS1. Photo: Marissa Alper.


As the largest exhibition to date of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s long career comes to a close this day of March 4th, 2024, I would like to provide a few footnotes. I willingly admit that I did not spend nearly enough time nor visited at the right hours to experience all that this show had to offer but that I take solace knowing I am not alone in that regard. In the Bourriaudian sense of the changed economy of contemporary art to ensnare the “unavailability” of performance and its residual trace through documentation as its new social function, the dried herbs from the October opening event and its uncleaned woks sent a bacterial chill up my spin. For Tiravanjia, performance becomes slippery as it implies a spectatorship, however these works encourage visitors to implicate themselves simply by sharing a meal or cup of coffee––dependent on the day and time you visit.

 

For those not familiar or confused thus far, Rirkrit Tiravanija is a Thai artist who works across a range of traditional media such as installation, film, drawing and sculpture as well as the subject of this inquiry––his participatory works. The room mentioned at the beginning, Untitled 1993 (cafe deutschland), was one work in which I happened to be present when they were serving Turkish coffee. This room––a small gallery located on the second floor––was created as a response to xenophobic attacks on the Turkish community in Germany in the early 90s. By recreating a café, the politics of hospitality in the face of hostility are brought forward as spatially and temporally bound as we experience the safety of this new environment surrounded by books from MoMa PS1’s archive and chairs we are welcome to oblige as instructed by the wall label. Tiravanija plays with the political environment of the gallery itself by making us question what is allowed and when and to whom these behaviors were interrupted by contexts such as the global treatment of immigrant/minority populations.

 


Rirkrit Tiravanija. untitled 1993 (café deutschland). 1993. Four chairs, one table, metal shelves, stacked books, mixed media, Turkish coffee, and a lot of people. untitled 1993 (chain letter). 1993. Envelope, letter, and color photocopies of stamped and addressed airmail envelopes. Installation view, Rirkrit Tiravanija: A LOT OF PEOPLE, on view at MoMA PS1 from October 12, 2023 through March 4, 2024. Image courtesy MoMA PS1. Photo: Kyle Knodell.


In other rooms there were works that welcomed visitors to play instruments on a makeshift plywood stage, a screen-printing press where one could request a T-shirt, a tea station tent, and regular pad thai nights––all affording an unguarded independence to let “a lot of people” be people. However, as utopic as this artful kumbaya proposes, I could not help but think of the larger political force field that keeps those that would need a free meal or those seeking to take advantage of a free coffee against New York City’s $8 latte on a need-to-know basis. Subsequently, “a lot of people” is just a few. As I waited for the barista to start brewing coffee, I felt like a loiterer, and it wasn’t until I had that porcelain mug that I felt like I could sit on those cold metal chairs. An object was the suture for the fracture of the boundaries I felt like I was breaking in a setting known for its silence and obedience. I appreciate the call of the participatory works to create new dynamics within the museum but for those outside of this space altogether…where were they ever allowed to break a sociality that they were not preciously privy to? How much more exclusive can art be when it is no longer a thing we search for access to but an experience?


Rirkrit Tiravanija. untitled 1990 (pad thai). Ingredients for pad thai, utensils, electric woks, and a lot of people. Installation view, Rirkrit Tiravanija: A LOT OF PEOPLE, on view at MoMA PS1 from October 12, 2023 through March 4, 2024. Image courtesy MoMA PS1. Photo: Marissa Alper.


Tiravanija poses the matters of relation as central to art’s social capacity and disrupts the art object as it has been commoditized since its move into the market. For that I believe it does, but there is much more to be said about the social economy of art that has not quite broken walls it has so fortuitously built.


 

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