Museums are great in the daylight – all noble marble columns and elderly white-haired curators – but every little curious mind has wondered what it is, exactly, that happens in the dark.
E.L. Konigsberg’s The Mixed Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler indulged that question in the halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Night at the Museum gave it a roar in the Museum of Natural History. The Museum Mile Festival opens its doors for three hours longer on one humid summer evening every year, and art-crossed lovers wander 5th Avenue with Starry Night on the mind.
Last week, the Guggenheim, too, entered that afterhours fantasy world, hosting its first-ever “Teen Night.” From 5 ‘til 8:30pm, teens were invited into the annex levels to view the work of Dutch portrait photographer Rineke Djikstra. The program also included a talk with the artist, senior curator Jennifer Blessing, and Almerisa, one of Djikstra’s longtime subjects. The event was staffed by teens from the in-house volunteer program and the NYC Museum Teen Summit, a collective of youth leaders dedicated to improving teen programming in local arts institutions. Each teen docent circulated around a room, dressed in all black but for a bright, round orange button that said “Ask Me About Art!”
Djikstra’s retrospective at the Guggenheim features many moments of transition: maidens becoming mothers, students becoming soldiers. But the most prominent shift in this exhibition is adolescence. Djikstra is an expert in the art of awkward: behind her lens she captures the uncomfortable gap between child and young adult, from girls on South Carolina beaches to dancers in nightclubs. Working slowly with a hefty 4×5 camera, Djikstra prolongs the sitting time for her subjects, allowing them to assume a natural position. Small details reveal themselves: the bend of a neck, the placement of hands and the tilt of shoulders. During the artist talk, Djikstra remarked that she photographed youth because their faces and feelings were still honest, not hidden: they may pose, but they don’t pretend.
Teen Night at the Guggenheim felt like it could be an excellent series subject for Djikstra. Tweens and college freshmen milled about, doing the museum shuffle from portrait to portrait. But lest we forget, Djikstra’s work isn’t just about the awkwardness– it’s also about the life, the potential and the energy of those young years. As they walked into the rooms with video installations, students leaned against walls and laughed self-consciously at the films, probably recognizing their own loopy dance moves. By the end of the night, though, there was time for the teens to assume their natural pose and, several minutes before closing time (the after-hours closing time, that is, of 8:30 pm), there were several young people dancing, arms like windmills, to the techno craziness of KrazyHouse.