Having already performed the work in London and Rome (1995, 1996), Tilda Swinton brought her performance piece “The Maybe” to New York in March, 2013. It is exactly what it looks like: Tilda Swinton sleeping in a box, in the Museum of Modern Art.
People who think that museums are for paintings and sculptures–among them images of women but not the animate thing itself–may wonder, what is the point?
Is the title meant to state the fragile, uncertain nature of “art” by its identification with a simple adverb modified, incongruously, by an article adjective–making language just as flimsy as the ‘art’ it might describe?
Is it some kind of statement on fame and celebrity and access and voyeurism?
Is it just a crass marketing ploy, the blonde vampire in the transparent coffin, leading up to the release of a movie later this year?
Is Swinton a Tracey Emin fan and this performance is an homage–or rebuttal?–to the Unmade Bed, providing a tidy napper for the earlier, much messier, installation?
And do you need to go back to college and take that contemporary art class to get it?–to understand art, to know if it’s good or not? Or even, anymore, to be able to identify art when you see it, especially if the sight of a very normal human activity, but performed by a famous person in a box in a gallery, challenges your understanding of “art”?
You only need to know: yes, Swinton sleeping in public (above) is art, while the guy doing the same thing, in a different context (below), is not. Swinton’s nap is art and that guy’s nap is, instead, just shy of vagrancy, for the same reason this is art and this is not, and why this art and this is not.
Because: a stage, and a proclamation.
Because: modern, and Duchamp.
Now, while you have to say it’s art, you don’t have to say it’s good art. Because: when the eons-old understanding of “art” was overturned by a French guy with a urinal, traditional judgement on “quality” was necessarily abandoned as well. While one category of making and consuming was closed to a tight, small circle–one which has become mightily skilled at communicating its sense of superiority and keeping its trade secrets to itself–, another was opened up to a wider audience. And it is only fair that if the naming makes the artist, the critique makes the critic.
Then again, no one every said that modern art is fair.