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The Clock's Artistry, Minute by Minute

By Steven Rosen · February 5th, 2013 · The Big Picture
ac_bigpic_christianmarclay_theclock2010'The Clock' (2010) - Photo: © Christian Marclay/Courtesy White Cube, London and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

The worst job I ever had involved a supervisor who was a by-the-clock stickler — if I tried to leave at 5:25 p.m., he would tell me, “We work until 5:30.” 

As a result, I loathe clockwatching — or so I thought, until I saw three hours worth of Christian Marclay’s amazing The Clock, a 24-hour art installation/video collage at Columbus’ Wexner Center for the Arts, on the Ohio State University campus through April 7.  

Talk about making every minute count! Marclay puts together scenes from thousands of movies that in some way reveal time — via a clock, a wristwatch or some other device or technique. These sequences then are synched to real time so you see, say, the 11 a.m. scenes precisely at 11 a.m., 11:01 at 11:01 a.m. and so forth for 24 full hours. You would think this an impossible task to assemble, but the material is so rich that he often has scenes from several movies within the course of a minute.

Marclay, a 58-year-old California-born, Swiss-raised and London-based artist, debuted The Clock in London in 2010. It has drawn long lines to see it ever since — in New York, Los Angeles, Jerusalem, Venice, Boston, Sydney and other international cities. The Museum of Modern Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art have bought two from the edition of six copies. This is its first Midwest showing and it’s a must-see for both contemporary art and film buffs.

I went on a weekday when the museum opened at 11 a.m. and was greeted by a scene from the 1948 film The Big Clock, where haughty publisher Charles Laughton says, before said clock, “I know it’s 11 o’clock — I’ll be there when I get there.” At least I think that was the scene — there is no on-screen identifier and those clips go by awfully quickly.

There were others I thought I recognized — at 11:04 a.m., Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren from A Countess From Hong Kong.

Christopher Walken’s outrageously famous “watch speech” to young Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction comes at 11:45. At 11:58, Gary Cooper looks nervously at a clock in High Noon. And Harold Lloyd drops the big hand of the street clock down to 2:41 p.m. as he hangs onto it for dear life in the silent classic Safety Last.

Wexner’s media office forwarded me a partial list of featured films and actors, put together by Bill Horrigan with Mike Olenick, that names such titles as Adventures in Babysitting, Easy Rider, Kiss Me Deadly, Rosemary’s Baby and Vertigo; and such performers as Humphrey Bogart, Matt Dillon, Rita Hayworth, Laurel & Hardy and Kathleen Turner. 

For the most part, however, I stopped trying to figure out the origins of each scene in the passing, endless parade of film clips. (Some films are featured more than once, if they have more than one image of time.) Each became so fascinating in its own right that I didn’t need — and couldn’t process — that kind of extra information. 

And in that there is profundity. We quickly come to realize how important time is to the movies — as a plot device, an establishing shot, a conversational tool. And it’s a small step from that revelation to an acknowledgement of how meaningful it is to our everyday lives. 

That’s important because — most of the time for most of us — time either flies or it is like a prison sentence, where we’re forced to slowly watch the minutes pass. The Clock lets us watch each minute pass and be liberated by the pleasure and beauty of it. You can’t ask for more from your art — and your life — than that.

When I attended The Clock on a weekday, there was no wait whatsoever in the screening room, where comfortable white sofas can hold some 60 people at a time. Visitors can stay as long as they want, until the Wexner closes. 

As The Clock is synched to actual time, the only way to see the evening and overnight scenes are to come when the Wexner is open then. So far, there are three scheduled dates when it will screen Marclay’s project for 24 hours straight — this Saturday night, March 2 and April 6. Otherwise, hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday and Sunday, and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. For more information, visit www.wexarts.org. 

Once you get there, be prepared to both lose track of time and be aware of every precious minute. 

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: srosen@citybeat.com



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