As one of the few artists with full creative control over her entire body of work, Björk has a lot to show off at her self-titled 2015 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This is not about the infamous Marjan Pejoski swan dress at the 2001 Oscars, however. This is not about her soul-shaking screaming above the brass section in “It’s Oh So Quiet”. This is not about 1995 Björk, 2001 Björk, or 2014 Björk. This retrospective is about all of that and more; about what all of those moments mean in a broader cultural context. This is about what she has done to drive music and (pop) culture forward.
She already has a permanent presence at the MoMA, as her video for “All is Full of Love” – hailed as the best music video of all time by MTV2 – is on eternal display. So, yes, the artist is indeed present. Most recently, the MoMa adopted the Biophilia app as its first-ever app acquisition in its permanent digital collection. But this exhibition has the possibility to create an immersive and exciting dialogue with museumgoers beyond an iPad app. What I want to see from this retrospective is the same accessibility and experimentation surrounding Biophilia, her 2011 album. This album saw a breakthrough in Björk’s creative influence and reach: collaborations with Apple, National Geographic, and David Attenborough paved the foundation for this album’s first and foremost intended use as a teaching tool. She even invented one-of-a-kind instruments to bring scientific concepts like gravity to her concerts’ crowds. While Biophilia stands on its own as a beautifully composed musical venture, the contents of the album extend themselves to a larger multimedia project that goes beyond everyday home listening: the world’s first album app suite, global educational residencies, and that is what I want to see on an even grander scale at the MoMA.
I want this exhibition to be more punk than the Met Costume Institute’s lifeless PUNK: Chaos to Couture, which sounds like an easy feat. However, the real success will come with the ability to break through to the general public and continue a dialogue that Björk has brought into sharp focus in recent years with projects like the Biophilia Education Programme, described on its website as “designed to inspire children to explore their own creativity, and to learn about music and science through new technologies.” The program will live on as it is implemented in schools across Europe, according to recent announcements.
Some are crying out that the Museum of Modern Art is losing steam, or that the power of celebrity is utilized too often to generate foot traffic at large-scale MoMA exhibitions (see Tilda Swinton sleeping in a glass box or Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present). These claims discredit the work of female artists – while White Male Privilege Incarnate artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons continue to display dead sharks in glass boxes and giant balloon animals, respectively. Björk does not sound like a clickbait exhibition. This has the possibility to bring even more light to both her accomplishments as an artist and her goals as an educator.
Interactive, curious, creative, thought-provoking, and original: these are all words that describe Björk’s body of work, and they also describe her punk sensibilities. She is bringing an accessible fusion of music, nature, and science to a new generation. Her beginnings in Tappi Tikarrass, KUKL, and the Sugarcubes display to her resistance to conformity, and this retrospective is more than a simple lookbook of swan dresses and rainbow wigs. It is a testament to her creative ethos, which celebrates collaboration, disparate influences, experimentation, innovation, invention, and radical transformation. This is the core of her work. She has revolutionized the way individuals interact with and understand music, and I hope pedestrians and hardcore fans alike can discover mutual connections during this retrospective’s run.
Björk has collaborated wih the likes of Alexander McQueen, Lars von Trier, Death Grips, Hussein Chalayan, Inez & Vinoodh, Michel Gondry, Nick Knight, Nobuyashi Araki, Jeremy Scott, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Chris Cunningham, Thom Yorke, Eiko Ishioka, Antony Hegarty, the Dirty Projectors, and others.
She has been inspired by and has inspired the likes of Michael Jackson, E.E. Cummings, Harmony Korine, 808 State, Tagaq, Micachu, Omar Souleyman, Arvo Pärt, Cocteau Twins, M.I.A., and Amy Lee of Evanescence.