Yoko Ono’s The Riverbed has been an evolving mess in the Gardiner Museum’s special exhibition space since it opened in February, as visitors pounded nails into the wall, strung a thick web of twine, rearranged three tons of river rocks and rebuilt broken china into bizarre, spontaneous forms, all with the artist’s — and the museum’s — blessing.
After all that, she’s asking you to clean it up (minus the rocks, of course). For the final day of the show, on Sunday, June 3, the museum asked Ono to come up with a parting gesture. Her idea: invite the public to drop in and take apart everything that’s been built.
She calls it “Cleaning Piece for the Gardiner,” for which the first 500 viewers to show up Sunday will be given a small box to fill with fragments of the show. It’s a final participatory gesture bringing to close an exhibition whose remarkable open invitation for visitors to refashion it day by day with their own hands has been among the most successful in the Gardiner’s history.
Drawn in no small part to the exhibition’s enticement to gentle transgression — where most museums are look-don’t-touch, The Riverbed was gleefully hands-on — thousands of people made good on the invite.
Rachel Weiner, the museum’s senior marketing manager, said that The Riverbed doubled the museum’s attendance projections and brought in triple the numbers they usually draw for a special exhibition. The museum expects a similarly enthusiastic send-off, enlisting additional security and gallery facilitators to watch over The Riverbed as it packs up, Weiner said.
“Line Piece,” one of three works, evolved into a dense thicket of twine tangled throughout with notes, drawings, knots and dangling bit of shattered crockery borrowed from another work, “Mend Piece,” just beside it.
“Line Piece” and ‘Mend Piece,” where visitors reassembled broken shards at communal tables next to a complimentary espresso bar, embodied a natural communion in The Riverbed, twine and crockery bleeding into each other as visitors seemed not to bother differentiating between the two (the shelves built for “Mend Piece” assemblies were surrounded by bits and pieces of shards crocheted into ad hoc sculptures, and then nailed dangling to the wall).
Not everyone’s been so hip to The Riverbed’s proposed communion, though. The show found itself uncomfortably in the news in April when a rock from “Stone Piece,” a splay of some three tons of river rock along the floor of the gallery, was stolen by a thief who’s still at large. The rock, on which Ono herself had written “love yourself” in black sharpie, is said to be valued at $22,000.
Emboldened by the success of such a hands-on show, the Gardiner is proceeding undaunted: Next year, it will host Ai Weiwei, whose millions of porcelain sunflower seeds made for the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London in 2010 were a magnet for light fingers (thousands lifted from the Tate are for sale on ebay.ca right now). Viewers are invited to walk on the seeds, arrayed several centimetres thick on the floor. A large portion of the 100 million made for the Tate will be installed at the Gardiner.
The public is invited to Yoko Ono’s “Cleaning Piece for the Gardiner,” Sunday, June 3, from noon to 5 p.m. It will be limited to the first 500 people. Cameras, for once, are encouraged.