Art or gimmick?

Probably a bit of both, Christian Marclay’s unusual video instillation showing at Lincoln Center’s David Rubinstein Atrium (July 13-August 1) during the 2012 Lincoln Center Festival is an event you can set your watch by. It’s a film buff's dream, an opportunity to test one’s knowledge of movies while an avalanche of clips rush by in real time.

Here’s how it works. When you sit down to see the video spectacle, look at your watch, assuming it is the right time. At that very moment on the screen will be a scene from a film in which a clock or watch is visible. The time on that timepiece will match the time of the moment. More clips will be in the same minute until the next minute, which will bring further clips for that minute. And so it goes in a 24-hour cycle, minute by minute.

Every film clip edited into the whole has a timepiece in view in some manner, and one can see the vast research that Marclay had to undertake to find enough clips for his purpose. Some 10,000 clips were reportedly used. The result demonstrates what a huge role keeping time plays in our lives. In these various bits of film culled, there may just be a clock visible but there are often events depicted geared to time, whether it be an explosion or Susan Hayward as condemned Barbara Graham waiting in a death chamber for the cyanide to drop. One of the time keepers that appears frequently is London’s Big Ben.

The Atrium showings—the Atrium is located at Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Streets—run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, and starting Fridays at 8 a.m., it runs continuously—insomniacs take note—around the clock until Sundays at 10 p.m. The show is closed Mondays.

Marclay is an artist renowned for his work in various media, including sculpture, photography, collage, painting and performance art. His use of film, for example, was reflected in his 1995 video “Telephones,” which was built with scenes involving phone conversations. He has performed and recorded music. His work has been widely shown internationally. “The Clock” was first screened in London in October, 2010 at the White Cube Gallery. Its U.S. premiere in New York last year was at the Paula Cooper Gallery in January and February.

My own experience was to go in the morning on opening day. While recognizing various films and not being able to recall others, I had the most fun seeing the great assortment of performers cascading by, including Marlon Brando, Sophia Lauren, Michael Caine, David Niven, Al Pacino, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Peter Falk, Jack Lemmon, James Cagney, Jodi Foster, and the aforementioned Susan Hayward, to name merely a few.

I got a kick out of the ingenious way Marclay used time, often building suspense by his editing. He probably holds the record for the number of film clips used in one extended video. Of course, once a viewer gets the point of matching them to real time, the project can start to become tiresome. But there is always some intriguing scene flashed that recalls a favorite film or performer and one’s interest is stirred anew. I wonder how many viewers will endure a 24-hour cycle over the weekend.

One can enter for just a short time, but no matter what time it is on your watch, it will be the same time on screen—that is if your watch is correct. If not, you can reliably adjust it.

One other note: “The Clock” can be shown anywhere in the world when the viewing period is set to local time. Reviewed July 13, 2012.

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