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Christian Marclay's Telephones

March 14 - May 31, 2009

Christian Marclay, Telephones, 1995, video, Museum purchase, made possible by the Collectors' Circle, 2007.026.

It is a dark and stormy night, and a man hustles to a phone booth and furtively dials.  Cut to another man, also dialing, the motion of his hand betraying a certain anxiety.  Cut to a succession of others, many of whom are immediately recognizable--Cary Grant, Tippi Hedren, Ray Milland, Meg Ryan, Humphrey Bogart--dialing or stabbing Touch-Tones in various states of expectation.  Drawn into this anticipatory mood, we are startled when, in the next shot, a phone actually rings--as, in real life, when we are jolted by that unexpected call.

Cleverly conceived and artfully edited, Christian Marclay's 7 1/2-minute video, Telephones, comprises a succession of brief film clips that creates a humorous narrative of its own in which the characters, in progression, dial, hear the phone ring, pick it up, converse, react, say goodbye and hang up.  In doing so, they express a multitude of emotions--surprise, desire, anger, disbelief, excitement, boredom--ultimately leaving the impression that they are all part of one big conversation.

The piece moves easily back and forth in time, as well as between color and black and white, aided by Marclay's whimsical ideas of continuity.  A shot of a woman decked out in '70s tiger-print regalia is followed by one of Whoopie Goldberg talking on a zebra-striped phone, or a man saying "I haven't been able to think or concentrate on anything but you" leads to another man's perplexed reaction: "I see," he says.  It's interesting to observe that the individual orchestral soundtracks are successful in creating a mood even in such minute segments, and Marclay uses them, along with the other inherent effects--dialing, ringing, beeping, voices, the receiver being dropped or slammed down--to create a rhythmic tone poem.  The piece also conveys the sense of alienation and frustration that can occur when talking to people who are not actually present.  "If I could just see you, talk to you" a woman importunes her lover, forgetting that she is, in fact, talking to him.

This work was purchased for the Museum by the Collectors' Circle, a subset of the Museum's membership interested in collecting and collections. This exhibition is sponsored in part by Nordstrom Direct.


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