Romeu Runa & Berlinde De Bruyckere at Hauser & Wirth, New York


New years resolution — learn to accept weekend subway closures and the lateness that ensues. New York openings, unlike those in the rest of the world, start and end precisely at the advertised time, so I am concerned I will be making an ass of myself being this late, but I’m resolved not to race down the sunny Chelsea streets only to be out of breath when I get there. As if anyone really cares.

At the top of the Hauser and Wirth’s vast and dazzling staircase sits a sign warning entrants of the content of the exhibition, specifically directed to patrons with children in tow. The family trailing up the stairs to my right think twice and turn away. I, however, move through the immense white doors, leaving the massive sunlit foyer in exchange for the equally enormous hazy darkness of the gallery.

As always, everything at the blue chip gallery screams luxury. The matte black metal shades that surround the spotlights making the room so dark, look as if they have been fashioned by a team of artisans, and no doubt they have; that or a team of overeager, but underpaid interns.

The lighting is very subdued, but it takes a lot of fixtures to make the colossal gallery precisely this dark. Still there is a crispness to the purple-blue-grey atmosphere, that juxtaposes itself nicely with the wintry slowness of the streets outside.

The room is quiet. Expertly worn high-end high-heels produce a particular decibel of clicking on the concrete floor that does not offend as viewers migrate around the solemn gallery toward its inner most corner which is captivating everyone’s attention. The art demands that patrons be almost silent. Necks are crooked making imperceptible (possibly imagined) popping noises. People fidget as much as decorum will allow, occasionally breaking with form to send tacit signals of recognition as acquaintances join the group.

After several minutes, my eyes start to adjust and the act of staring becomes interrupted by the allure of peripheral objects and people. Faces softly lit by a glow reflecting off objects, creatures dwarfed by the shadowy rafters above. Bodies everywhere, collectively unperfumed and dressed in sloppy Saturday attire in lieu of the regular high fashion opening garb.

A granular “woosh-woosh” breaks the silence, followed by a gurgle that shocks the audience from their collective reverie. Gallery staff are the first to become restless, advising audience members to step aside to make room for a ceremonial exit.

The mob dispatches and resumes its typical meandering as the space erupts in chatter. A woman remains against one wall, her head slumped over as her partner consoles her. It is hard to know if this is a reaction to the work or the continuation of an earlier quarrel they had temporarily suspended for the love of art.

I take one last look around the gallery and escape to the open air and the sunshine. In the midst of winter hibernation there is a premium placed on being outside, but I feel renewed after this gloomy interlude knowing it is a privilege to stand amid strangers and fall so effortlessly into a shared silence.


Originally published at www.katewivell.com on January 30, 2016.