Critics sharpen knives. Björk gets filleted.

I’ve read some negative reviews in my time but nothing like what’s raining down on the Björk “mid-career” exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Björk show at MoMA is bad, really bad.”
Ben Davis


“…the show reeks of ambivalence.”
Roberta Smith
The New York Times

Ouch. She said it reeks.

“And the dresses, honey, the dresses.”
Jason Farago
The Guardian

I attended a preview and thought the show was okay (just), but after reading some of the scathing critiques, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s as bad as they say it is. They make some astute observations, these critics.

I’ve had a bug up my ass about Björk for years. Occasionally, an artist will say something that’s so insipid and void of perspective that it leaves me with an ambivalence towards their work that won’t fade away. For instance, back in 2010, while one-note actor Michael Cera was promoting Scott Pilgrim vs The World, he delivered this nugget of clarity:

“I don’t really want to be famous, and I’m kind of scared that might be happening.”

Then don’t be a MOVIE STAR or take a lead role in a BROADWAY PLAY, stupid. I could go on with similar examples. (And, in fact, I have.)

In 2000, Björk was promoting Dancer in the Dark, a movie she starred in with Catherine Deneuve for which she received much praise and an Oscar nomination. During a press junket, she said filming was:

“…like signing on to war, going to the Vietnam War. I believed I might die. Acting is like jumping from a cliff without a parachute.”

What an idiot. I’ve done neither, but I’m fairly certain that making a movie is nothing at all like fighting in Vietnam. She lives in a vacuum. I’ve dated girls like Björk. They’re in a constant state of crisis—a crisis that’s usually of their own construct. They’re malcontents who’re always spoiling for a fight and feel the world is against them. After she said that, I lost interest in her work.

Flash forward. I entered the exhibit with an open heart. I resolved to judge her work on its merits and forget about this foolishness from 15 years ago. I had a nice enough time but it’s like the Orlando Hard Rock Café without the overpriced hamburgers. Examples of her hand written lyrics and journals were under glass. Man, I don’t care about her scribblings. And journals? Give me a break. Who wants to read someone’s journals?

Before entering the exhibit, you’re given an iPod and a pair of pretty decent Bang & Olufsen headphones. There’s music and spoken-word narration for each individual gallery. The tracks are triggered by motion detectors. As you move between the small, cramped galleries, the music and narration changes automatically when you cross a threshold. It’s a clever conceit but I soon lost interest and relegated the audio portion to the back of my mind. I couldn’t understand the dialogue over the music. It was only later after reading some reviews I discovered there’s a linear story being told about Björk being on a journey. Who knew?

The galleries contained videos and costumes from her live performances. There was her swan dress from her night at the Oscars (on a cartoonish likeness of her). The eggs are a nice touch.


A translucent, nipple-pierced Björk was dressed in this Alexander McQueen gown. It slowly rotated on a pedestal.

bjork1 bjork7

The Bell Dress, another McQueen creation, along with headpiece hair sculpture by Hrafnhildur Arnardottir.


The cool robots from her All Is Full of Love video.

bjork6 bjork2


I’m not entirely certain where these were used. The gallery was packed and I couldn’t get to the description card. But they were interesting. They must have been uncomfortable to wear. If anyone can fill in the blanks, feel free.

bjork10 bjork9

Her videos, arguably the bread and butter of her oeuvre, are relegated to a room with serviceable projection and uncomfortable foam furniture. It’s a shame because the camera loves her. The guy sitting in front of me had horrific B.O. and I had to leave earlier than I would have liked. That’s not Björk’s fault.

She created a new work specifically for this exhibit. It’s a :10 minute film for Black Lake, which appears on her new album. It’s about her breakup with conceptual artist Matthew Barney. You enter a dark, circular room with two large facing screens and sit on the floor. A great sound system cranks up and you see a film of Björk crawling around on her knees in a cave, emoting, beating her chest and singing a song of unrelenting heartache.

Family was always our sacred mutual mission
Which you abandoned

You have nothing to give
Your heart is hollow
I’m drowned in sorrows
No hope in sight of ever recover
Eternal pain and horrors

Oy. What melodrama. Even during my worst break-ups I never thought the pain and horror was eternal. I would never commit thoughts like that to paper. They say artists “feel” more. Maybe that’s true.

This is the 7th anniversary of my blog. Here’s to another seven years *ting*.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Did Shakespeare maintain a blog? Sure sounds like it.

80 thoughts on “Critics sharpen knives. Björk gets filleted.

  1. I would have thought that this exhibition was more suited to diehard fans?
    Anyhow, Who wants to read someone’s journals?!!!!!
    You do make me smile!!!

  2. “Who wants to read someone’s journals?” I see what you did there.
    Bjork sounds overwrought. At least when Taylor Swift breaks up with someone it’s hummable.
    Happy septiversary. I just passed the three-year mark (, Mark) in late February. But today is the fourth anniversary of sobriety, so *ting* back at ya.

    • Look at us! Anniversaries abound. May they never stop multiplying. *ting* with cranberry juice.

      I want to like her and respect her because she’s really creative but there’s too much of it that just strikes me as pretentious art school blather. Actually, I just now came up with the problem: it’s not FUN. There’s no fun.

      • I’m down with this thread but confined to typing with thumbs (lucky you). Loved the tone of this Mark and I am with you guys on the kind of snob art fukery thing aplay here. I will trot out that first Cubes record from time to time; it expands the minds of my girls I think, to hear how a woman can sing like that.

      • If you want to see something that’s not the Sugarcubes and not quite Bjork, scroll down and have a look at the vid I embedded. It may take more than one listen but it’s really interesting.

  3. I’m impressed you even ventured in. I don’t think I would have been similarly inclined. Probably wouldn’t even have been on my radar.

    Loved your response to Michael Cera’s comment. Made me laugh out loud.

    As for the review of “reeks of ambivalence”, that’s actually an interesting choice of words. Ambivalence might be exactly what some artists are going for!

    • I am inclined to see pretty much EVERYTHING. It gives you a much deeper appreciation for the masterpieces if you wade through some crap every once in a while. It provides perspective.

      Not to self promote…but click on that link in the Michael Cera paragraph. I’ve got a few examples that will make you want to strangle some people. They achieve their heart’s desire and have no appreciation for it.

  4. Interesting stuff. Reading her poem is like um….. so much eternal pain and horrors. I think I’m going to open up an art exhibit then just follow people around from room to room reeking of BO to see what happens.

    Happy anniversary! Seven years, holy guacamole. I’m coming up on my fifth and consider myself a wordpress dinosaur.

    • Oh, it’s better than that. That’s no poem. Those are song lyrics! You should hear the music they’re set to. It’s for distinctive ears.

      Gazooks! If you’re a dinosaur at five, what does that make ME at seven!? (See how I turned that around and instead of congratulating you for your longevity, made it all about me? I was born with that skill. It’s my superpower.)

  5. Interesting post Mark. I do not know Bjork but your review was excellent. Happy 7th blogging anniversary to you good sir.

    • Thanks, Paul. I only know you a little bit but I’m going to go out on a ledge and say that Bjork’s work is not your cup of tea. I consider myself fairly urban and it’s not even MY cup of tea!

      That begs the question: Who IS your cup of tea? If you had to go out and buy a new album, who would it be?

      • I like a lot of the old rock AC/DC, Nick Gilder, Stevie Nicks, Loverboy, etc. I’m not overly familiar with newer artists but some are excellent. I sometimes hear songs and think they are awesome and then promptly forget the artist’s name. Ha!

  6. I had only heard of Bjork through the dress stories that would crop up on occasion in the really- not-news news. I just listened and watched a few of her music videos. I’m just sophisticated enough to know she fits under my Yoko Ono category – artists that I find aesthetically unappealing in practically every way possible. And I want to like them, but only because I think it makes me look like a rube not to. Still, we like what we like and sometimes get migraines from what we don’t. Going to take an ibuprofen now.

    • Yoko is an excellent analogy. Some of her videos are quite, quite good. (Bjork, that is. Not Yoko. Yoko is hopeless.)

      Don’t buy into art snobbery. They make you think you’re not brainy if you don’t like something but the truth is that you might not like it because it SUCKS. They all do it. Fashion. Food. Snobbery is everywhere. That’s why the Emperor’s New Clothes is such a timely story.

      • Art is incredibly subjective. This is reason enough to only stick with one’s own impressions and not make universal statements. On the plus side, it leaves room for every artist, writer, blogger, musician, and photographer to find an audience, no matter how small. There’s just no accounting for taste.

      • Boy, that’s for sure. Plenty of things in life are subject to individual taste and foibles. For instance, look at these shoes I have on right now. They’re ridiculous! But it pays to keep an open mind. If it weren’t for an open mind, I’d still think that Jackson Pollock’s paintings were just a useless mess.

  7. Ok, I have to admit my ignorance. I spent the whole first part of this blog post wildly confused because all I know about Bjork is that there was some commotion about her and a swan dress (I was in middle school when all that went down) and that she had something to do with the music industry. Oh, and that she’s from Iceland (which I know because we went to Iceland last fall and her name came up in my research). So when you started talking about her ART exhibit, it didn’t compute. I still don’t really get how this is “her” exhibit. It seems like most of the things in there that I would consider art (dresses, robots, other clothes) were made by other people. But that’s because I’m an uncultured heathen, I suppose 🙂

    On to things I do understand – anniversaries and Shakespeare! Congratulations on 7 years!

  8. Holy shit – you’re a veteran blogger! I don’t think I’ve met many of those. Today, you have spoiled my image of Bjork. I don’t listen to her music, follower her life, adhere to any of the art that she does or watch her movies. But I have an image of Bjork in my head and I’m proud of it. In this image, she’s quirky-cool and completely removed from our plane of existence. She isn’t melodramatic about a break-up, too cool for that. She isn’t about an egocentric art display, too cool for that. She’s just awesome. But today she’s not. That’s okay. I still have Zooey Deschanel.

    Yah, who the hell wants to read peoples’ journals???

    • I’m a veteran everything. Blogger. Commuter. Daydreamer. (I was going to say masturbator but decided that’s too crass.) I am sorry if I compromised your image of Bjork. As I said in my post, The camera loves her. She’s quite beautiful. But too kooky. Deschanel is kooky but still accessible

      I started off on Blogger and migrated to WordPress a couple of years ago. Better interface. Less calories.

      • You totally should have gone with serial masturbator… now that would make for a great post. No worries on the Bjork thing, she just never meant much to me. But if you spoil my Zooey, god help you man.

        So the seven years means the electronic blogging only then, on Blogger and WordPress? How much further back does it extend if you include the journals?

      • Sometimes the truth is too much to handle. That’s why I sidetracked to daydreamer and left out my other hobby.

        Blogger + WordPress = seven years. You can’t really count the journals because there was a gap of about 15 years or so. They started quite some time ago. I remember keeping them in high school (which was VERY, VERY long ago). I lost those, though. I have no idea what I did with them. It’s probably better this way.

  9. Sugarcubes, yes. Just Bjork, no thank you. There was no there there, for me, Mark. People would get so worked up, and I’d take away droning puncuated with periodic indecipherable squeaks and squeals. You had the word for it. Oy. To each their own.

    Nice of you to attend with an open mind, to eye spy her journals. She doesn’t have a seven-year history of blogging to recycle them, though. Congratulations on that. Impressive.

    • I respect people who like this stuff. I try never to pass judgment unless someone’s getting hurt. But it’s just not for me. Having said that, I will gladly take in all installations that are considered difficult or unpopular with an open heart and open mind.

      Thank you for congratulating me on blogging—something that is born from my neuroses. I could scarcely help myself. I’ve tried to quit but can’t.

  10. Happy Anniversary Mark! You are my second blogging friend who is celebrating 7 years today – she got a nice message from WP, did you? I hope so. Don’t think I would have gone to the exhibit, but glad your mind was open enough to take it in.Thanks for sharing it with us – your commentary was hilarious to me, as usual. I remember the swan dress and a song by her called, “It’s Oh So Quiet,” but that’s about it. Nice Macbeth quote at the end – right??!

      • Well that was an unexpected reaction! I liked the song and video too, can’t remember what year it was, though. I guess since it’s Anti-Bjork, I’ll watch it again – thanks for the link

  11. All that fame is why I am not a famous actress. Just too damn much fame involved, y’ know?

    I think you should have put in a checklist for those of us who wanted to comment on your journal line 😉

    SEVEN years???? My goodness. Well done! Congrats.

  12. After commenting, I went through the rest of the comments on this piece. You have such a terrific group of followers — the comments are fascinating!

  13. She’s wonderfully obsessed about herself, but I suppose that’s quite normal for an artist. I wish P.J. O’Rourke had been there to ask whether she’d laid those eggs herself. He’s got the perfect voice for asking facetious questions.

      • He got married and has two daughters, like you. I think you should give him a call and exchange parenting tips.

  14. Congrats on seven years with the blog! Still going strong. I’m impressed. Some journals deserve attention. Who would want to read such a thing? Ha ha. That made me laugh.This exhibit is strange I guess for die hard Bjork fans it’s the bomb. I think she’s talented and I can’t ever forget the swan dress. But a whole exhibit? Hmm. I know it always gives me pause when someone achieves great things without really trying or wanting it. Hey, no fair! Love the Shakespeare quote.

    • My hair was darker when I started this blog. There were some streaks of black. Now, seven years later, it’s lost its youth. Or, youf.

      There’s some stuff to see in the Bjork exhibit–it’s not complete waste of time–but overall I can’t say it was entirely necessary.

  15. Congrats on 7 years and wishing you (for my reading pleasure) many more. That journal crack made me laugh out loud. I like that kind of humor. Don’t know much about Bjork. I just file them under the next greatest thing until the next greatest thing comes along. Kudos to MOMA for the display, that’s what the’re supposed to do. Then we can judge for ourselves. On past girls you’ve dated, it was a description of the Kardashian TV show. Constant state of crisis they construct, malcontents, always looking for a fight and think the world is against them. I wonder if MOMA has any plans for an exhibit about them?

    • I can’t believe this nonsense has gone on for seven years. Seven years! Daughter #2 has only been on this planet for eight! There’re have been few breaks. I didn’t feel like posting after I was laid off but otherwise it’s been a fairly constant stream of blather. I can’t see it stopping anytime soon. Thanks for your kind words.

  16. Happy anniversary, brother. You’re younger than i am… in blog years, that is… Got nothin’ on the exhibit. i’d have probably laughed. The fashion side of things makes my head explode. So much pretension and bullshit that i can’t get my head around why anyone follows fashion trends (said the woman who is wearing a shirt that is 7 years old…)

    • You’re an O.R. (Original Reader). Thanks for hanging in there for so many years. You’re the last of your breed. All the others have abandoned me. I am older than you in every respect of the word.

      There’s so much pretense in this town that I can’t believe I’ve put up with it for as long as I have. Fortunately, there is enough of the good stuff to keep it interesting.

      • What the fuck you talkin’ bout Willis? I just passed my 8 years in January and didn’t even know it… and i do it for no readers haha! you can call my Sisyphus or something… and while i’ve never been a fan of Bjork i’m even less a fan of critics… many critics like to sit in their towers and cast judgement yet have never attempted to do what the people/artists they are critiquing have done or at least tried to do… better to have tried and failed or some such non-sense, i’ll listen to what the people say but critics? they’re fucking morons.

      • Sisyphus or incredibly evolved with a healthy outlook. Both are probably true. I wish I didn’t care so much but I do.

        The critics did seem to pile-on poor Bjork. It wasn’t her fault! The museum approached her! She refused a few years ago, probably knowing it wasn’t a great idea, but her ego finally won out.

  17. Don’t some people say some utter bollocks, eh? How the hell can acting be anything remotely similar to fighting in the Vietnam war and waiting to die? God…

    Yeah, who wants to read anyones journals….;P

    That crocheted get up is hideous.

    Most artists are bonkers; i guess you’ve got to love that about them.

    • Can you imagine wearing the crocheted get-up? It’s a costume. It looks uncomfortabl. But I think the hideousness is intentional.

      I’ve known (and dated!) some artists. You are correct. They’re bonkers. But do you know what? They’re NOT BORING.

  18. I listened to a recent interview with her on Radio 2 – or at least some of it. She was on about building her own spiritual cathedral – which I thought was an interesting point of view but the interviewer was gushing like this was the most profound statement in the world. They then reviewed the album and all about this “baring her soul etc” blah blah… anyone who writes their own lyrics open themselves up but in my experience most people misinterpret them anyways most of mine are by those that listen… but hey… that’s up to them isn’t it and I’m not bothered by it at all but funnily they rarely see the amount I’ve opened up when they misinterpret it is normally at a much more superficial level than the lyrics mean to me.

    Finally… “Don’t play the victim”. I lesson I learnt early in my recovery. I’d played this role a lot in my life up to that point…. “oh woe is me… You can’t possibly understand the pain I’m in due to…. ” etc. In other words “Poor me. Poor me. Pour me another drink!”….

    Like you say I hear many “artists” massively over state their victimisation seemingly trying to tell you that the filming of a big budget movie in Hollywood, the recording of their new album in a studio in the Caribbean or the performance at a festival on a large stage with a swath of risk assessments and safety officers in attendance was frankly the most dangerous thing any person on this earth has ever attempted. NO that is call anxiety – some people get that just walking into the office every day… get over yourself.

    • I would have liked to hear that interview prior to seeing the exhibit. It might have added some layers of understanding. I’ll hop over to the BBC and try to find it. Listening to artists describe their art can be a pretty dull affair. Better to just experience it, let it wash over you and make of it what you will.

      People love being victims. No disrespect meant but people here in NYC won’t let go of 9/11. Even today, so many years later, they cling to their suffering. Maybe it’s the only thing that makes them feel alive.

  19. Yes, WP has stopped notifying me of anything as well, so apologies for the late happy birthday! Seven years. Many interesting people have packed in during that time so well done.

    Bjork is one of the few people I feel like punching. There seems no limit to the distance she can travel up her own arse.

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