Is Tilda Swinton's Nap Bad for Art?

Another day, another nap for the actress/cultural oddity at the Museum of Modern Art. Not everyone's so excited this time, including a high-profile art critic, but maybe they should be.

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Another day, another nap for Tilda Swinton at the Museum of Modern Art. Yes, the actress/cultural oddity was back at MoMA in her glass box in New York again Monday after creating a sensation this weekend when she, unannounced, began performing her piece "The Maybe," originally devised in collaboration with Cornelia Parker, at the preeminent museum. "The Maybe" consists of Swinton sleeping in a glass box. And while museum visitors and culture critics around the world continuing to freak out Swinton's appearance, it was also slammed today by one of the most high profile art critics on Earth: New York magazines's Jerry Saltz, who sees the Swinton thing as more self-serving stunt than performance art—even if there's something to that.

Swinton-mania is still definitely going strong. There's now a Tumblr dedicated to answering the question "Is Tilda Swinton Sleeping in a Box?" The answer today was of course "Yes."

According to Gothamist, Swinton moved upstairs today to a second floor gallery, after she was on display Saturday in the Agnes Gund Garden Lobby. She also apparently got some celebrity visitors: Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick stopped by, according to People. James Franco has also been reported at the scene, but that should surprise absolutely no one—he once stared at performance artist Marina Abramovic from a chair at MoMA, and is, well, James Franco.

And, yet, the Swinton performance has not impressed everyone. Saltz wrote that Swinton's performance is yet another example of MoMA—which recently and famously staged Abramović's "The Artist is Present," the exhibition that drew the attention of celebrities aside from Franco—using a living art gimmick to draw in visitors. He calls the Swinton piece the "latest twist on whatever-it-takes to get them in the doors while presumably showing a little intellectual leg." Saltz continues:

I'm a sourpuss, so I think this is just a hokey artsy strategy to disguise the fact that the place doesn't have enough room to show its tremendous collection. Visiting there now is unpleasant because the museum has been so overcrowded since its 2004 makeover. The event also has inner content: MoMA is narcissistically puffing its celebrity feathers, playing at being avant-garde. And then the atrium itself is a problem: It’s such a weirdly proportioned disembodied non-space that almost all efforts to hang traditional artworks there have been a bust.

Saltz questions MoMA's relationship to celebrity and what it costs a museum with so much else to offer. The quandary of the relationship of celebrity to museum culture is not a new one, and in fact was recently the basis of critique against gallerist-turned-MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch. In October of last year Guy Trebay wrote of Deitch's tenure in the New York Times:

There have been missteps over the two years since Mr. Deitch moved west, specifically a handful of shows that took celebrity as their focus. Yet while there have been measurable and even outstanding successes, these have been purged from the narrative.

But, as Saltz points out himself, there is also some good to the project in "the wonderful possibility that museum visitors might come here, see a movie star asleep in a case, accept it as some kind of art, get super excited, and wonder how on Earth something this strange got started. And they'd rush upstairs to the greatest collection of modern art in the world, let themselves go, and add their thinking to the group mind." Even if the idea itself borders on sell-out, there is some purpose served by the undoubtedly attention-grabbing piece: More people should see what MoMA has to offer, even if it's surrounded by the seemingly random stunt piece. And since she was napping a bit closer to some actual art rather than a staircase just beyond the museum entrance on Monday, well, maybe there's hope for this ridiculous thing yet. Just don't get too excited for back-to-back performances. MoMA is closed on Tuesdays.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.