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'Björk' at MoMA: A retrospective in future tense

Costumes on display at the Bjork exhibit during

Costumes on display at the Bjork exhibit during a preview at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan on March 3, 2015. The exhibition, which runs from March 8 to June 7, is a retrospective of the work of the singer and composer, and features her music, videos and other contributions to popular culture. Photo Credit: EPA / Justin Lane

To mark the debut of her new short film, "Black Lake," at the Museum of Modern Art this week, Björk dressed as a cactus to enter the cavelike room constructed specifically to show the new work.

Yes, a cactus -- complete with pointy needles around the Icelandic artist's head and some fabric to cover her face. It is clear that though the new MoMA exhibit "Björk," which opens to the public Sunday, is billed as a career retrospective, her work is far from finished.

"Black Lake," after all, is based on the 10-minute centerpiece of her new album "Vulnicura" (One Little Indian) and Björk is set to promote that album with a series of concerts that start Saturday at Carnegie Hall.

Klaus Biesenbach, MoMA's chief curator at large, who collaborated with Björk for three year on the exhibit, said he knew she wouldn't be interested in simply a look back at her work, so he sold her on the idea of creating "a future retrospective."

Well, "Björk" is certainly a futuristic retrospective. "Songlines," the heart of the exhibit, uses new Volkswagen technology to create an audio guide that changes as you walk through the galleries of work connected to Björk's albums. The guide, written by Icelandic poet-novelist Sjón and narrated by Icelandic actress Margrét Vilhjámsdóttir, tells kind of a fairy-tale version of Björk's life and career, calling her "The Girl" and later "The Girl-Mother" as she moves out among "The People." While you wander around with the guide in your ears and the iPhone that holds the software in your hands, you can look at Björk's notebooks of lyrics and some of her memorable dresses, including the famous/

infamous Marjan Pejoski "swan dress" she wore to the Oscars in 2001.

It's meant to be an immersive, guided journey through Björk's career, but the galleries felt too spare, at times more like a Hard Rock Cafe than MoMA. Often, there weren't enough things on display to fill the five-minute bits of stories and music allotted on the guide, leaving people standing at the exits, waiting for the guide segment to end.

Maybe some of that time could be spent reading something more about Björk's career or some context about her unlikely transformation from Icelandic indie-rocker to multimedia artist.

"Björk" fares far better with "Black Lake," the short film commissioned by the museum and directed by Andrew Thomas Huang, that uses imagery of a dried-out, then replenished lake to mirror Björk's feelings after the collapse of her longtime relationship with artist Matthew Barney.

Oddly enough, the most successful part of "Björk" is the most conventional one, the room where people sit together and watch her groundbreaking videos, including "It's Oh So Quiet," directed by Spike Jonze, and a string of Michel Gondry-directed videos, from "Army of Me" to "Declare Independence."

For decades, Björk has captivated and confused the world with her shifting musical styles and her controversial fashion and art, rarely explaining the meaning behind her work. Now, with "Björk" and other current pieces, she seems more forthcoming -- even if that means the cover of "Vulnicura," her breakup album, has a photo of a gaping wound down her body, or if she dresses as a cactus to feel less vulnerable.

Apparently, even Björk wants to be understood.





As she celebrates her new "Vulnicura" album and the retrospective of her career at the Museum of Modern Art, Björk will spend the next few months performing around New York.


Carnegie Hall, Manhattan: March 7 and 14

INFO $45-$150; 212-247-7800,

Kings Theatre, Brooklyn: March 18 and 22.

INFO $50-$100; 800-745-3000,

New York City Center, Manhattan: March 25 and 28; and April 1.

INFO $50-$100; 212-581-1212,

Governors Ball, Randall's Island: June 6

INFO $105; 888-810-2063,



WHEN | WHERE Sunday-June 7, Museum of Modern Art, 11 W. 53rd St., Manhattan

INFO $25; 212-708-9400,

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