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Experience Rirkrit Tiravanija at MoMA PS1

Who is Rirkrit Tiravanija?

Honestly, we didn’t know who Rirkrit Tiravanija was when I decided to end our NYC park camping trip with a stop at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens. He baited us with offerings of Turkish coffee, hot tea, collectively created music and flavorful pad thai. Now we find ourselves returning to MoMA PS1 and imploring that others go as well because of the experience. So who is Rirkrit and why does he make art in the way that he does?

You can tell from his works that he is a citizen of the world. He’s a Thai national who was born in Argentina and has lived in Ethiopia, Thailand and Canada. He’s currently a professor at Columbia University and runs Unclebrother restaurant/gallery (alongside Gavon Brown) in Hancock, New York (just before Binghampton if you are coming from NYC and along the PA/NY border). Rirkrit using his works to not only bring people together with communal environments, they touch on political and historic events around the world. 

This is Immersive Art: A Lot Of People

Over the last four decades Rirkrit has experimented with different art forms. One of the current, active participation forms of art is seen in his newly produced ‘plays.’ These are experiences that you are welcome to join. While simplistic in form, there is a ripple effect in watching and also participating in each exhibit. What you do as a participant has a direct impact on those watching you.  

The exhibition in residence from October 2023-March 2024 includes five plays. In pad thai you are offered freshly made pad thai. During shall we dance an actor invites patrons to dance to “Shall We Dance” from the 1956 musical film The King and I. You become the art during free/still as you enjoy a warm bowl of curry and converse with those around you. Fear eats the soul or angst essen seele auf is Tiravanija’s presentation of a bar scene from the movie in which the bartender serves a patron. The exhibition closes out with t-shirt, no t-shirt. Guests will can purchase a freshly made silkscreen t-shirt in the atelier style shop.

The five historical interactive experiences are:

  • untitled 1990 (pad thai), 1990
    October 13 through November 11, 2023
  • untitled 1991/2008 (shall we dance), 1991/2008
    November 17 through December 9, 2023
  • untitled 1992-1995 (free/still), 1992/1995/1997/1998/1999/2003/2007/2011–
    December 15, 2023 through January 6, 2024
  • untitled 1994 (angst essen seele auf), 1994
    January 12 through February 3, 2024
  • untitled 2011 (t-shirt, no t-shirt), 2011
    February 9 through March 2, 2024

Renewal of a Community

Every experience will be different. We will never know the breadth of its impact on each visitor, but it doesn’t just stop when you step out of the museum. Each space that you enter has something unique transpiring. It could be as simple as showing someone how to play ping pong for the first time or challenging newly made acquaintances to a game. Go in willing to observe with an open mind and if you can engage and participate.

If you aren’t comfortable grabbing a microphone or guitar and playing to perfect strangers that’s fine. Watching and listening to others sing, dance and prepare tea is fine. People watching is perfectly fine. Remember, your presence is what makes the art possible. Without you there is no art. You should feel as though you are welcome and you are part of something.

Our Experience

As I said in the beginning, we came for the food. I’m just being honest. I don’t think any of us were prepared for how something so simple could have a lasting impact. We actively make plans to return to MoMA PS1 because of the beauty of this experience. 

We first arrived during the opening of this exhibition to a large crowd of people. It was a rainy day and the piles of umbrellas littered the corridor leading to the main building. Like children at a toy store we wandered around trying to take it all in a warp speed. Looking back I would have taken it slower. Thankfully we have the luxury of living in NYC and we can return to experience it again and each time the experience is different.

The kids were welcome to use the rehearsal studio and played instruments and sang alongside people who knew the difference between a g flat and c minor. We shared tea with strangers shrouded by a burnt orange cube as music played around us. We had ping pong matches with other people who we may never see again. There was even a time when I was outside the building and I told a passerby speaking German that they needed to visit the exhibit. Low and behold I saw them inside about an hour later. Yup, I’m that person that will scream from the rooftop to share something wonderful with others.

We’ve been back multiple times and each experience is different. Sometimes the kids play instruments, other times we just enjoy what is being created and shared by people around us and then there are times we explore the art that takes us on a journey of its own. There is a weekly conversation that happens regarding Rirkrit’s A Lot of People and it brings us joy. It’s not often that a museum space allows the spectator to become the art, but MoMA PS1 has allowed us all to do this, both old and young alike. I’d thank MoMA PS1 100 times over for introducing us to Rirkrit and his incredible work.

Other Moma PS1 Offerings

While the current main exhibition is A Lot of People, there are still other programs and exhibits to explore during your visit to MoMA PS1. This museum has offered a community-driven take on art where the artist and the audience are put in the driver seat for over 45 years. This museum is for the community, patrons and artists just as much as it is for partners and donors. New Yorkers, this is your museum.

In addition to the programs and exhibits there is a coffee shop, seating in the open courtyard and a classic bookstore. The museum offers a bag check for larger items, self-service lockers and a mobile charging station; all free of charge

Be sure to check the calendar for the current schedule as there is a lot of exceptional programming, events and art. Remember the museum is FREE for New York residents, made possible by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation. The museum is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

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