Art of the City

Open Secrets: The Hidden Passages of Klara Lidén and Bruce Nauman

Installation view of “Klara Lidén: Grounding” at Reena Spaulings Fine Art. (The installation’s hatch is closed in this photo.)


In this ART OF THE CITY column: KLARA LIDEN collapses around New York in a beautiful video at Reena Spaulings, and BRUCE NAUMAN makes a key available to a few lucky MoMA visitors. Both artists offer semi-secret hiding places, part of a rich tradition that includes artists from Michelangelo to Merlin Carpenter.

1. Under the Paving Stones, the Beach

Klara Lidén, master of the off-kilter architectural intervention and incisive psychogeographer of urban life, has delivered a solo show at Reena Spaulings that has all the makings of a classic, combining a few exquisite ideas that together capture the unsettled mood of New York City in 2018, in all of its dread and potential.

Using wood of the kind that graces the gallery’s floor, Lidén has blocked off the room with an obstruction that stretches at a 45-degree angle almost to the ceiling—a not-quite wall that is part barricade, part fortification, and part Donald Judd sculpture. A small hatch at one end of the installation is open, and light peeks through from the windows behind.

The wooden slab serves as a projection screen for Grounding, an ingenious five-minute video in which Lidén stars. Wearing a dark shirt and pants in a hypnotic single shot that’s accompanied by a thrumming, minimal soundtrack, the artist walks through Lower Manhattan, past corporate towers, deserted plazas, government buildings, a famous Jean Dubuffet sculpture, some cars, and scaffolding, and—again and again and again—she falls. She trips over a lamppost and gets back up. She crashes into construction netting, spills to the ground, then recovers. She collapses in a crosswalk but, when a FreshDirect deliveryman moves to help her, she’s already on her way. Some of these stumbles look rather painful, but Lidén has such superb timing that you may find yourself, like me, taking uncomfortable delight in her Buster Keaton–style behavior.

Installation view of “Klara Lidén: Grounding” at Reena Spaulings Fine Art.


Why can’t she stay on her feet? She appears to be partially unaware of her surroundings—in an area that has been radically transformed since 9/11 by business, police, and military interests—and it seems as if she exists between temporal zones. She falls over objects that she can’t see, and, in some cases, that we can’t see either—things that once existed, perhaps, or things that didn’t used to be there.

It could also be that something more personal is afoot, that she’s being felled by the kind of memories that attach to various places after living somewhere for a long time. In any case, it’s thrilling to watch a body—a person—not only failing to comport itself to its heavily regulated environs, but nonchalantly refusing to, and taking the hard knocks that such a stance entails. Strolling the streets as she pleases, she invites us to do the same.

As Lidén’s strange flânerie plays out on a loop, you can crawl through the modest hatch at one side and pass under her makeshift structure. Playing on a small television behind her wall is a video about navigating a familiar space, and finding new means of disappearing within it. But it seems better not to ruin that experience by describing it. Lidén’s show runs through December 16. Go see it, and then go for a walk.

Installation view of Bruce Nauman’s Kassel Corridor (1972) at the Museum of Modern Art.


2. Keys Open Doors

Speaking of semi-secret redoubts, there’s a remarkable one hiding in plain sight in Bruce Nauman’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. A nondescript door at the center of a curving wall contains a little sign that reads, “Visitors wishing to enter this space may obtain a key at the fifth-floor information desk. One person per hour is admitted on a first-come, first-served basis.” This is Kassel Corridor (1972), a rarely exhibited and absolutely essential installation that Nauman made for Documenta 5. Because of the aforementioned time restrictions, only a few people can step inside each day, but on a recent Saturday, a friend with a MoMA corporate membership afforded me the opportunity to enter the museum early, rush to that information desk, and sign up.

The key comes with a formidable number of rules, including this: “No one can enter with you, and you cannot share the key. This includes parents or guardians with children.” (You also have to be at least 16—sorry, young art fans.) So I dutifully entered solo, locked the door behind me (as Nauman suggests), and found myself in a crescent-shaped corridor, painted a solid green-gray, that narrows in either direction. It was both cozy and a bit creepy, and as ridiculous as it may seem, being in this banal, ur-bureaucratic space filled me with the self-satisfaction of being let in on a great private joke. Here I was, hiding inside the exhibition while scores of other people viewed the show, unaware of my presence.

From the vantage of our current moment in contemporary art, which is filled with so many big-budget spectacles and ticketed experiences, Kassel Corridor stands as a wry, lo-fi sendup of things like Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Rooms” (which visitors often inhabit, by comparison, for less than a minute) and Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipse sculptures. But it’s also a tidy summation of Nauman’s enduring engagement with questions regarding control and confinement, whether psychological or physical. Oddly, it wasn’t until days later that I began to wonder what would have happened if I had decided not to abide by the piece’s rules.

Gregor Schneider’s N. Schmidt Pferdegasse 19 48143 Münster Deutschland (2017) at the LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Münster, Germany.


3. A History of Hideaways

Since visiting Nauman and Lidén’s shows, I’ve been imagining an exhibition of sculptures and installations that take the form of trapdoors, hidden passages, and secret rooms. The problem, of course, is that devoting a show to art hideaways destroys the surprise of discovering them, missing the point entirely. Nevertheless, one can dream. Such an affair would need to include one of Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe’s deception-filled installations, the maze of a piece that Gregor Schneider presented at Skulptur Projekte Münster last year, Merlin Carpenter’s 2011 show at MD72 in Berlin that visitors had to pay €5,000 to view, and—if one wanted to take an expansive view of the subject—perhaps Door: 11 Rue Larrey (1927), Marcel Duchamp’s door that swings between two openings. And while it doesn’t quite count as an installation in the contemporary sense, I’d also lobby for adding the long-unknown room where Michelangelo apparently hid out in Florence for months for political reasons, drawing on the walls. I’m just scratching the surface here. What else should be in the show? Let me know at

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